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Court panel: Crundwell sentence stands

Published: Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 2:56 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 3:26 p.m. CDT

DIXON – Calling her sentence of 19 years, 7 months in federal prison “substantively reasonable,” an appeals court Friday rejected an attempt by former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell to serve a shorter term.

A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago unanimously affirmed the sentence.

Next, Crundwell may ask that her appeal be heard by the entire 7th U.S. Circuit Court, which includes about 11 judges, or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which doesn’t have to accept the case, said Randall Samborn, public information officer for the circuit court.

Dixon Mayor Jim Burke, who described himself as “happy as a lark” with the court’s decision, said he would have been “very, very disappointed” if the sentence had been reduced.

He was confident the court wouldn’t reduce the sentence, he said, but didn’t think it was a guarantee.

“You never know,” Burke said. “Sometimes you read about some of these court decisions that are made, and you wonder where they came from. I think it’s pretty slim that she gets the Supreme Court to (reduce the sentence).”

Oral arguments in the appeal were heard Nov. 4, and a decision was announced Friday morning.

Crundwell was sentenced Feb. 14 for stealing nearly $54 million in city funds throughout two decades. She was arrested at City Hall on April 17, 2012. Crundwell is in a minimum-security federal correctional Institution for women in Waseca, Minn.

Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook, writing for the court, said U.S. District Court Judge Philip Reinhard had passed down a “substantively reasonable sentence,” so there was no cause for the sentence to be reduced.

In the oral arguments, Paul Gaziano, Crundwell’s attorney, said the sentence varied too far from the sentencing guidelines and that more merit should have been given for the former comptroller’s cooperation with authorities after her arrest.

At the time of sentencing, Gaziano said, Reinhard improperly applied what he called “guideline application notes” to justify a variance of the sentence from the recommended length.

The sentencing range that was agreed to by both parties was between 151 and 188 months, Gaziano said.

With the 235-month sentence, Crundwell would be released when she is 77, “well under the life expectancy of a 60-year-old woman,” Easterbrook wrote.

While that sentencing range isn’t mandatory, Gaziano argued the district judge placed too much weight on the psychological harm caused to Dixon residents.

“The (district) judge thought that citizens of Dixon suffered ‘psychological harm’ from the revelation that a prominent officeholder was crooked, that other officials did not detect the crime, and that for 20 years they had been deprived of valuable municipal services,” Easterbrook wrote. “Crundwell contends that only the city counts as a victim and that organizations cannot suffer psychological harm because they are insensate.”

Gaziano also argued that Crundwell had significantly cooperated with authorities and the district judge had “only in passing referred to that cooperation” and didn’t mention what effect that cooperation should or could have had on the sentence.

“The district judge recognized that Crundwell had provided some aid, principally in rounding up assets, but he thought that the value of the assistance paled in comparison with the injury that Crundwell had inflicted on the citizenry,” Easterbrook wrote.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Pedersen said that Crundwell’s cooperation had been taken into account by the government when it charged her with only one count of wire fraud. 

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