DIXON – One count of federal wire fraud wasn’t enough to ease the public’s mind, the mayor said Thursday.
That’s why the city approached the Lee County state’s attorney about pursuing state charges against former Dixon Comptroller Rita A. Crundwell.
Thursday morning, a Lee County grand jury delivered a staggering 60-count indictment against the 59-year-old Dixon horse breeder and showman.
“I can tell you around this community there has been a lot of concern, rightly or wrongly, that the accused was going to get off with a slap on the wrist,” Mayor Jim Burke told a room full of journalists and residents at a news conference at City Hall.
“The basis for it, from my understanding – and I’m not saying there is a basis for it – but I think the public perceived that with just one charge of wire fraud and the fact that she was out on a recognizance bond with no cash, that the public has interpreted that probably the next step is going to be a slap on the wrist.”
Prosecution will not proceed, though, without approval from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Lee County State’s Attorney Henry Dixon said.
He didn’t take the federal case into consideration in deciding whether to prosecute, Dixon said.
“Part of my job, not me as a person, ... is to prosecute crimes when they arise and when there is a reasonable basis to conduct an investigation. And that’s exactly what I did,” he said.
This is a case of dual jurisdiction, Dixon said.
He’s been working with federal prosecutors since shortly after her April 17 arrest, when she was charged with wire fraud in connection with what federal prosecutors say is the misappropriation of $53 million in city funds.
The federal investigation stretches back to 1990, when Crundwell is accused of opening an account in the city’s name.
The state’s attorney investigation focused on the period between Jan. 1, 2010, and April 17 and 60 transactions totaling $11,293,810.
The investigation was conducted by Lt. Tim Morgan of the Sterling Police Department, with the Dixon Police Department assisting. Dixon police did not lead the investigation, Dixon said, because the department is too close to the situation.
“Why is the Sterling Police Department involved?” Dixon said. “Simple. I determined that there are too many people around Dixon who have some conspiracy theory.”
After the news conference, Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss said although he was disappointed his agency couldn’t take the lead on the case, he understood why.
“I think there’s a lot of distrust,” Langloss said. “The bigger the government, the bigger the distrust is, and we’re confident in the way things are going to be handled moving forward.”
Dixon first asked the Illinois State Police, but it declined, citing a lack of personnel. That was the reason Dixon didn’t even ask the Lee County Sheriff’s Department. He said he already knew it was overwhelmed.
Morgan, an officer more than 19 years, said this was a significant investigation.
“On its face and with the dollar amounts that we’re talking, yes, it’s probably one of the larger cases that I’ll ever have to work on,” he said.
Federal prosecutors gave local investigators one document with eight lines of text on it, Dixon said.
They had to issue their own subpoenas, which is one of the reasons it took until now to come back with the indictment, he said.
“That (time period) is the window that I have been given to work with by the Department of Justice,” Dixon said.
“... It is our position, or is my position, that there were at least 60 times during that time frame in which money was taken from a city of Dixon account and deposited into the reserve sewer capital development account.”
That’s the RSCDA account Crundwell is accused of opening.
Each transfer translated into a count of theft of more than $100,000 of government property, a Class X felony punishable by 6 to 30 years in prison.
If Crundwell is convicted, the decision on whether those terms would be served consecutively or concurrently would be based on the sentencing structure, the length of time the activity took place and the interaction and relationship between the activities, Dixon said.
“That’s the general areas as it relates to our particular offense because there’s no conspiracy here,” he said. “There was nobody else involved. And frankly, had there been someone else involved, people would have known about it 20 years, 15 years ago.”
Dixon said he will wait until he receives approval from the U.S. Attorney’s Office before moving ahead in the state case.
He did not ask for a warrant for her arrest because she is in the custody of the U.S. government, he said. “The law is very clear, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office is very insistent, and I absolutely will comply,” Dixon said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not return call for comment.
Dixon said he will not agree to a global resolution, a type of plea in which both the state and federal cases would be resolved with one plea deal.
He decided to charge Crundwell locally, he said, “because she violated our law. It is alleged that she stole money from the city of Dixon on at least 60 occasions within the wingspan that I’ve got available to me, and she ought to be held accountable.”
Crundwell and her attorneys are entitled to know what she faces, Dixon said, so that she can factor that into her decision as she makes her way through the federal process.
If Crundwell is convicted in both the federal and state cases, she would serve her time concurrently, first in federal prison, assuming the state sentence would be longer.
Restitution is being handled at the federal level, Dixon said, adding that at this point, he has no intention of following up on that front.
“There’s nothing left, in my view,” Dixon said. “As I understand it, the feds have taken everything of Rita Crundwell’s of any value whatsoever and left her with some clothing and a bunch of trophies.”
When asked whether a longer sentence would prevent the city from collecting further restitution upon her release, three of the city’s four commissioners said they expect the only restitution the city will get will come from the sale of her assets. (The fourth commissioner did not attend the news conference.)
“I think it would be unreasonable for any of us to assume that she could ever pay back what is alleged she’s taken,” Commissioner Colleen Brechon said.
“I’m hoping that people are pleased that this has taken place, and I would really like to see some money come back to the city.”
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