$30M Stolen from Tiny Illinois City
A finance officer siphoned off $30 million from the city of Dixon to fund a lavish lifestyle and a nationally renowned horse breeding business, according to an article from Bloomburg Businessweek.
Dixon, Ill., a city of about 16,000 people west of Chicago where Ronald Reagan grew up, has an annual budget of $20 million. Longtime comptroller Rita Crundwell allegedly stole $3.2 million since last fall alone, and misappropriated more than $30 million since 2006. She had control over all of the city's finances, which is a common arrangement in smaller cities and towns, Businessweek reports.
The missing funds went undetected for years until another staffer filling in as vacation relief became suspicious and discovered a secret bank account, the article says.
Between January 2007 and March 2012, Crundwell, who has been the Dixon comptroller since the early 1980s, is accused of racking up more than $2.5 million on her personal American Express card -- including $339,000 on jewelry -- and using Dixon funds to pay back the charges.
Prosecutors say she also used $450,000 in stolen funds for operations at her Meri-J Ranch, where she keeps about 150 horses.
Crundwell is one of the top horse breeders in the U.S., having produced 52 world champions from her ranch, the article says.
FBI agents searched her home, office and farms in Dixon and Beloit, Wis., and they seized seven trucks and trailers, three pickup trucks, a $2.1 million motor home and a Ford Thunderbird convertible, all of which was allegedly bought with stolen funds. The authorities also seized control of the contents of two bank accounts she controlled.
"Tens of billions of our tax dollars flow through 7,000 plus units of government in Illinois every year. And we can only watch a few of them," said Andy Shaw, president of the Chicago-based corruption watchdog, the Better Government Association. "Most of them don't have inspector generals. Most of them don't have auditor generals. Most of them don't have watchdog groups looking closely. ... It's ripe for rip-offs."
According to Dixon Mayor James Burke, Dixon has struggled with big infrastructure expenditures, reduced revenues and cash flow problems made worse because the state is far behind on income tax disbursements. He, along with many in the department, attributed Crundwell's lavish lifestyle to her success in the horse breeding industry.
Burke said that the city has appointed an independent panel including a certified public accountant, a banker and an attorney to recommend financial controls.
Marianne Shank, the director of the Illinois Government Finance Officers Association, said in the article that more training is needed for officials setting up these controls, including requiring dual signatures for checks, monthly cash flow reports to document budget shortfalls and a comprehensive annual financial report.
Dixon has placed Crundwell on administrative leave without pay and named a new interim comptroller.