Rita Crundwell, the former comptroller of Dixon, Ill., pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzling $53 million from city coffers that helped fund a multi-million-dollar horse breeding business.
Crundwell, 59, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in Rockford federal court, admitting that she opened up a Dixon bank account controlled only by her to embezzle $53 million in funds since 1990.
Under her plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Crundwell has to pay back Dixon more than $53 million, CBS Chicago reported.
The U.S. Marshals Service has begun the process of auctioning off some of Crundwell’s assets.
A live auction conducted in September netted $4.78 million from 319 horses and equipment once owned by Crundwell, according to the Quad-City Times. An online auction ends Wednesday at 7 p.m., including a horse trailer and other equipment related to Crundwell’s horse breeding operation.
Dixon Mayor James Burke was not optimistic that the city will recover all of the $53 million owed by Crundwell in restitution.
“We’re hoping for a substantial amount, but it’s pretty hard to put a number on it at this point, but it certainly will be in the millions, no question about that,” he told CBS Chicago.
Besides the one count of wire fraud that she pleaded guilty to, Crundwell also faces 60 other counts of theft, Chicago’s ABC affiliate reported.
Dixon resident Stan Woltzen said he thinks the small town can overcome the huge theft that notoriously gained the Illinois town national attention.
"This community is going to be OK. You know, we've stopped the outflow of money. We're able to manage our cash. We're able to pay our bills without going to the bank, and we've got to institute a lot of changes here at city hall. It's been quite an experience, really," he told the television station.
Crundwell's scheme was uncovered by Burke, who called law enforcement last year after he said a city employee took over for Crundwell when she took an unpaid extended vacation.
The city employee sent a bank account statement to Burke while filling in for Crundwell, and the Dixon mayor was unaware that the account even existed, according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court.
There were 40 withdrawals on the account totaling $266,000, and the withdrawals appeared suspicious to Burke because the banking activity was not related to city business.
The account's primary account-holder is listed as Dixon, but the joint account holder is RSCDA, and checks written in the account were done under the name R.S.C.D.A., C/O Rita Crundwell, the complaint said.
The FBI claims Crundwell also used $30 million of the city's money for her own personal and business expenses.
Crundwell allegedly racked up a $2.5 million American Express bill between January 2007 and March 2012, including $339,000 just on jewelry, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office said.
Crundwell allegedly used city funds to pay off the charges.