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Bookkeeper who stole $53M gets nearly 20 years

Published On: Feb 14 2013 12:14:08 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 14 2013 07:26:09 PM CST
Rita Crundwell

Sketch by artist Linda Massey

ROCKFORD, Ill. -

A judge has sentenced a small Illinois city's former bookkeeper to nearly 20 years in prison for embezzling more than $53 million over more than two decades.

U.S. District Judge Philip Reinhard in Rockford sentenced 60-year-old Rita Crundwell on Thursday after witnesses testified about the hardship her massive theft had caused the city of Dixon.

The former Dixon comptroller pleaded guilty to wire fraud in November and admitted to embezzling city funds from 1991 until her 2012 arrest.

Crundwell used the stolen money to establish a nationally renowned horse-breeding operation in Beloit and to live lavishly.

Outside the federal court on Thursday, Dixon residents said they are trying to move on and finally close a dark chapter in their city's history.

"She barely apologized. I don't think anything would change this," said Bev Eykamp, a Dixon resident.

"I think the citizens deserve more answers," said Dixon resident Josie Whaley. "Where's the rest of the money? Did she spend it all in that lavish lifestyle?"

Dixon Mayor Jim Burke testified that Crundwell's massive theft caused great hardship in the city, but he said the city will move on.

"The amount of money she was taking and now that we've got the holes in the dike all plugged up, we're going to recover pretty fast," Burke said.

Prosecutors said the theft ranks among the worst abuses of public trust in the corruption-rich history of Illinois.

"You can trust but you have to verify, and I think that's the lesson for municipalities and governments -- that you can place trust in individuals but there also needs to be verification," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Pedersen.

Crundwell still faces 60 separate but related state felony theft charges to which she's pleaded not guilty.

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