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Our view: Lessons from Dixon theft

Rita Crundwell’s brazen thievery of millions of tax dollars ended April 17. That’s when FBI agents arrested the former comptroller for the north-central Illinois city of Dixon for looting the town’s treasury.

Crundwell’s pretense of innocence ended last week. That’s when she pleaded guilty to one count of federal wire fraud; she also admitted to stealing an astounding $53,740,394 from Dixon city coffers.

Crundwell’s freedom will end Feb. 14. That’s when she will be sentenced in Rockford federal court.

No slap on the wrist is expected for Crundwell, 59, during her Valentine’s Day sentencing hearing. The prosecution says she faces between 15 years, 8 months and 19 years, 7 months in federal prison, with no probation possible.

The defense contends the sentencing range is more like 12 years, 7 months to 15 years, 8 months.

While this case isn’t local, it stands as a lesson to governmental bodies in McHenry County and across Illinois that putting too much trust and power in a single person’s hands all too often leads to bad outcomes.

The litany of Crundwell’s lavish spending is well known. What’s not yet known is how much Dixon will receive in restitution for the sale of the properties, vehicles, trailers, hundreds of quarter horses, and personal effects that she bought with stolen taxpayer dollars.

So far, about $7.4 million has been raised, but U.S. Marshals Service expenses must be deducted.

When Dixon receives its restitution, city leaders must put the needs of the taxpayers first as they decide what to do with it.

With one word, “Guilty,” Crundwell brought the federal prosecution of her crimes to an end. Still ahead are 60 counts of theft brought against her by the state. According to the charges, she stole more than $11 million from the city between January 2010 and April of this year.

Crundwell remains out of jail on a $4,500 recognizance bond, which sticks in the craw of many people. And why wouldn’t it? A common thief who pleads guilty to a lesser crime would be thrown behind bars, but Crundwell, who admitted to taking $53 million and change, still possesses her freedom.

That minor victory is a hollow one. Crundwell now knows her liberty has a shelf life. In 89 days, her fate will be sealed.

Area municipalities should take heed, and make sure they have the proper checks and balances in place so what happened in Dixon does not happen here.

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