DIXON – An auction of horses and equipment seized from a renowned breeder and former small-town Illinois bookkeeper accused of stealing millions in public funds brought in $2.4 million over the weekend, with more scheduled to be sold Monday, officials said.
Sunday's highest bidder was a Canadian woman who paid $775,000 for former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell's 2004 world champion Quarter Horse stallion, Good I Will Be.
Crundwell is accused of misappropriating more than $53 million from the northern Illinois town to help support a lavish lifestyle and her horse breeding operation. She has pleaded not guilty to a federal charge and also faces state charges.
About 400 of her horses were handed over to U.S. marshals through a judge's forfeiture order in May. An earlier online auction brought in $1.64 million for 80 horses and bidding was to continue Monday for the remaining 173. If Crundwell is convicted, the U.S. Marshal's Service and Dixon will get the money. If she's acquitted, the profits will be returned to her.
"These are really great breeding stallions," said Vicky Swenson, 27, a chiropractor from Sandwich, Ill., who was among more than 2,000 people gathered at Crundwell's farm for Sunday's auction. "I don't know if it's the number being sold, but they're going for a lot less than what I would've expected."
Andy and Kelly Swanson, of Louisville, Ky., attended the auction hoping to find new clients for her horse insurance business, but also to view the spectacle.
"Today was just something we had to see," Andy Swanson said.
U.S. Marshals Service spokeswoman Lynzey Donahue said she was happy with the turnout. Auctioneers also sold trailers, saddles and other items.
Crundwell is accused of siphoning public funds into a secret bank account opened in 1990 while she was Dixon comptroller. Prosecutors say she concealed the scheme by showing auditors phony invoices designed to look like they came from the state of Illinois and making it appear that the funds were going to legitimate purposes. As an explanation for the shortfall, she told the mayor that the state was behind in disbursing funds to the city, according to a federal grand jury indictment.
Federal prosecutors contend she spent the funds on jewelry and cars, including a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Roadster, as well as horses.