Watchdog group sees cautionary tale in Crundwell documentary
Rita Crundwell's quarter horse breeding and showing empire came crashing down in 2012 when the largest municipal theft in U.S. history was uncovered. The Dixon comptroller and treasurer had financed her own enterprise with $53.7 million in taxpayer money.
The documentary on the Crundwell case, All The Queen's Horses, will premier at 1 p.m. on Aug. 9 at the Martha's Vineyard African American Film Festival.
The Edgar County Watchdogs (ECW) call the documentary a cautionary tale of small crimes that grow into huge thefts from the public, usually with no way to ever pay it all back. The government oversight group said most embezzlement starts small, with a meal, credit card purchases or payments on personal bills. Gradually, small purchases or fudging on the budget grow until it becomes routine to take public funds.
The ECW warned that when state's attorneys overlook small crimes, they perpetuate a mentality that small acts of corruption are acceptable, but those small acts tend to grow until they are out of control. When the perpetrator is caught, the funds are rarely repaid.
Crundwell embezzled a record $53.7 million over 22 years from Dixon. As the comptroller and treasurer, she had sole access to the city's funds. She spent most of the stolen money on her multimillion dollar quarter horse empire, while forcing budget cuts, refusing to purchase equipment and neglecting street maintenance.
The ECW also pointed to improper auditing practices, which in the Crundwell case led to a $40 million settlement with the city's outside auditors and the Fifth Third Bank. Crundwell's assets also brought in more than $9 million at auction.
If the auditors had not ignored the red flags and dismissed earlier concerns of theft, Crundwell's continuing drain on the city's accounts might have been stopped years earlier. It was city clerk Kathe Swanson, acting as comptroller while Crundwell was on vacation, who noticed the fraudulent bank account and notified Mayor James Burke. He called the FBI.
Crundwell pleaded guilty to a single theft of wire fraud. She was ordered to forfeit $53 million in assets and sentenced to 19 years and 7 months in federal prison on Feb. 14, 2013.