Rita Crundwell, the comptroller of Dixon, Ill., was arrested Tuesday by the FBI for stealing public funds, the Associated Press reported. Officials believe Crundwell, 58, who had controlled all of the town’s finances since the early 1980s, siphoned off more than $30 million in city funds over the past six years, including $3.2 million since last fall alone.
The annual budget of the town of 16,000 – former President Ronald Reagan’s hometown – is only $8 million to $9 million a year, according to ABC News.
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Crundwell, who earned $80,000 annually, made no secret of the lavish lifestyle she allegedly paid for the city’s money, ABC News reported. Over the years, she bought $339,000 worth of jewelry, spent $450,000 to run Meri-J Ranch in Beloit, Wisc., where she bred horses, and acquired a $2.1 million Liberty Coach Motor Home and a $140,000 Freightliner Truck, among other purchases.
Crundwell’s success in horse-breeding – her ranch has produced 52 world champions – made it somewhat plausible that she had earned her wealth herself, the AP reported. "She definitely was a trusted employee, although I've had some suspicion for quite a while just because of her lifestyle she lived," Dixon Mayor James Burke told the AP. "But there wasn't anything that was brought to my attention or that I could see that would give cause to think that there was something going on."
Officials allege Crundwell funneled funds from the town’s bank accounts through wire transfers and checks payable to “Treasurer” into a secret account held by the city of Dixon, ABC News reported. She withdrew money from this account for her personal use.
The account was discovered in October 2011 when Crundwell took 12 weeks of unpaid vacation, and her sub reviewed the city’s bank statements, ABC News reported.
A Chicago-based corruption watchdog, the Better Government Association, called on state and local officials to strengthen their financial safeguards, the AP reported.
"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," the association's president, Andy Shaw, told the AP. "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."
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