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Crundwell appears in court

Ex-official wants public defender

DIXON – Rita Crundwell made her first court appearance in Dixon.

The former Dixon comptroller showed up in Lee County Court for a hearing involving the state’s 60 counts of theft against her.

Judge Ron Jacobson asked Crundwell whether she needed a public defender.

In a quiet voice, she said yes.

Her federal public defender, Paul Gaziano, explained to the judge that all of her assets, including livestock and cars, had been seized as part of the federal case against her.

“Everything has been disposed of,” he said.

Public defenders are offered to those charged in criminal cases who can’t afford their own lawyers.

Federal prosecutors on April 17 charged Crundwell with wire fraud in connection with what they say is the misappropriation of $53 million in city funds over more than two decades.

Lee County Public Defender Bob Thompson was appointed. It was Thompson’s first appearance with Crundwell. He met with her for a few minutes before the hearing in a small room next to the courtroom.

Thompson said he needed more time for the arraignment. The judge scheduled it for Oct. 31. Crundwell, wearing black slacks and a white buttoned shirt, is free on bond.

In the audience was her boyfriend, Jim McKillips, manager of the Meri-J Ranch in Beloit, Wis. He sat with a member of the federal public defender program.

McKillips faces no charges. Prosecutors say Crundwell spent much of the ill-gotten money on her quarter horse business. Many of her horses were stabled at the Meri-J.

After Monday’s hearing, McKillips declined to comment.

As she walked down the hallway outside the courtroom, Crundwell, flanked by McKillips and the two members of the federal defender program, was asked whether she had any comment.

“No, thank you,” she said.

Outside, they walked to an SUV, which Gaziano said was owned by the federal government. His colleague took the wheel.

They headed down state Route 2, which goes to Rockford, where Gaziano works. It’s also in the direction of Beloit, where the U.S. Marshals Service says Crundwell is spending much of her time.

In September, Lee County State’s Attorney Henry Dixon secured the indictment of Crundwell on the 60 counts of theft.

The state’s attorney’s office focused on the period between Jan. 1, 2010, and April 17, and 60 transactions totaling $11.3 million.

In a news conference last month, Dixon Mayor Jim Burke said the city went to the state’s attorney’s office about pursuing the state charges because the one federal count of wire fraud wasn’t enough to ease the public’s mind.

The federal case is before federal court in Rockford. She has not been tried yet in that case, but agreed to the U.S. Marshals Service auctioning off her horses and other belongings.

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