As a champion horse breeder, Rita Crundwell was a familiar face in Dixon, Ill., a sleepy town of 15,000 where Crundwell also worked, managing the town's finances for about 30 years.
But on Tuesday, federal authorities arrested the 58-year-old civil servant, accusing her of stealing $30 million in taxpayer funds in the past six years. The FBI was tipped by the city's mayor to the comptroller's suspected malfeasance. Crundwell's arrest leaves many Dixon residents wondering how she might have managed such a feat in a town as small as Dixon.
Crundwell allegedly used money stolen from the town treasury to fund a lavish lifestyle, which included the purchase of a 2009 Liberty Coach motor home for $2.1 million, a 2009 Kenworth T800 tractor truck for nearly $150,000, as well as two more trucks and a horse trailer for hundreds of thousands of dollars more.
Residents of the town about 100 miles west of Chicago, known as the childhood home of Ronald Reagan, were surprised and upset to hear the news.
"I'm just totally ticked that she was able to get away with this," resident Carole Fischer told WFLD-TV in Chicago. "They have auditing firms that check the books. Where are they at?"
Many in Dixon assumed that Crundwell's wealth was accumulated through her business. Crundwell breeds champion horses at ranches in Dixon and Beloit, Wis., according to Rockford, Ill., TV station WIFR.
As comptroller, Crundwell's salary is $80,000 a year. She had worked for the city since she was a teenager.
Crundwell came under scrutiny because she took off four months a year -- all but a month unpaid -- to operate the horse business and travel to shows, the Chicago Tribune reports.
During one such break in October, an employee filling in for Crundwell asked the city's bank for all its statements and discovered a suspicious account that was the source of multiple six-figure transactions, authorities told the newspaper.
It was that discovery that led Mayor James Burke to approach the FBI about the matter, leading to Crundwell's arrest.
"It's incredible really. In the last two years we've been really in a financial crunch with the whole thing," the mayor told the Tribune, adding that an annual audit revealed no problems.
"Auditors even commented that we were doing fine with our cash controls," he said.
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