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‘No reason to proceed’

DIXON – Citing a desire to save taxpayers about $300,000 on a “futile” trial, Lee County State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller on Tuesday dismissed theft charges against Rita Crundwell.

The former Dixon comptroller had been charged with 60 counts of theft for stealing $11.3 million in city funds between Jan. 1, 2010, and April 17, 2012.

Sacco-Miller called further prosecution “futile” because it would not have meant more prison time for Crundwell or additional restitution to the city of Dixon.

Crundwell’s attorney, Lee County Public Defender Bob Thompson, said he was confident he would have won the argument that state prosecution would not be legal.

Crundwell was sentenced in February to 19 years, 7 months in prison for federal wire fraud for her admitted theft of nearly $54 million from the city over two decades. She must serve no fewer than 16 years.

That amount includes the $11.3 million on which the state charges were based. She also was ordered to pay full restitution.

If convicted, the state sentence would have run concurrently with the federal sentence, Sacco-Miller said.

Even if Crundwell would have been sentenced to the maximum 30 years on the state charges, with the state’s day-off-for-day-served and good-credit policies, she likely would have served only 14 years, 6 months, effectively nullifying the state sentence and wasting the cost of the trial, the state’s attorney said.

The 60-year-old Crundwell has appealed her federal sentence.

Sacco-Miller did dismiss charges without prejudice, meaning she can refile within two years if the federal sentence is vacated or overturned.

“In the event (her sentence is reduced) with the appeal, I’ll reconsider my decision,” Sacco-Miller said. “There’s no reason to proceed at this point.”

Sacco-Miller said the $300,000 estimate was a conservative figure, in part because the trial would have to be moved outside of Lee County due to the number of direct victims in the jury pool – the taxpayers from whom the money was stolen.

“The main reason (Crundwell’s) trial would potentially cost so much is that there are 60 counts that would be required to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” Sacco-Miller said. “The trial would likely take at least two weeks and would require expert testimony on the scheme for each count. There are tens of thousands of pages of discovery that would be analyzed and potentially hundreds of pages required to prove each count.”

Sacco-Miller estimated an expert could cost about $20,000, transportation for Crundwell – based on an average between two likely potential prison facilities (one in Minnesota, one in Texas) – would be $4,451.40, and attorney fees are estimated at $92,000.

Housing costs were estimated at $9,900.

Those figures do not include costs for additional security during the trial, any other travel involving the case and trial preparation, and court time for the Sterling Police officer who investigated the case.

Tuesday, Thompson was set to argue his motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that it constituted double jeopardy in light of Crundwell’s federal fraud conviction.

Had Sacco-Miller not dropped the case, there’s a good chance he would have prevailed, he said after the hearing.

“I know it was the right move,” Thompson said of Sacco-Miller’s decision. “I commend her for it. It was a courageous move because the popular decision would’ve been easier, but this one is the right one. That’s a good sign the state’s attorney is taking her job seriously.”

Sacco-Miller said she researched Illinois law, spoke with several colleagues, and had a conference with Judge Ron Jacobson and Thompson before reaching her decision.

Federal Judge Philip Reinhard’s sentence took into consideration the entirety of Crundwell’s crime, in regard to the sentence, forfeiture order and restitution orders he issued, she noted.

When former State’s Attorney Henry Dixon filed the theft charges, he was told Crundwell’s federal sentence would range from about 8 to 10 years, giving him more reason to pursue prosecution, Sacco-Miller said.

“There were ongoing plea negotiations, and as we were unable to come up with an agreement, I have to assume it would proceed to a trial,” Sacco-Miller said. “She has to agree to enter a plea for a sentence to be imposed.”

Crundwell, who is in Boone County Jail awaiting assignment to a federal prison, did not appear in court Tuesday.

Sacco-Miller said she would notify the U.S. Marshals Service of the dismissal to get the ball rolling on Crundwell’s transfer.

Mayor Jim Burke said the city council was notified of Sacco-Miller’s decision. Even though he would have liked to see Crundwell get a stiffer sentence, Burke said the state’s attorney made the right decision under the circumstances.

“There’s something wrong with the federal guidelines,” the mayor said. “She’s going to be behind bars a year for every $3 million stolen. I don’t think anyone should be able to steal $53 million and be out walking the streets.”

Sacco-Miller also called upon all cities, townships and governmental agencies in Lee County to establish a practical and effective protocol to safeguard against theft and fraud.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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