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Theft charges dropped against imprisoned former Illinois town official

Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 10:45 a.m. CDT

DIXON, Ill. — Lee County, Ill., prosecutors on Tuesday dropped all their charges against Rita Crundwell, the disgraced former Dixon treasurer who is already serving a nearly 20-year federal sentence for a massive fraud scheme.

In dropping the 60 counts of felony theft during a brief hearing in Dixon, State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller said she could not justify the cost to prosecute Crundwell on the state charges.

“The state charges will not bring any further penalties or any more restitution than there already has been ordered by the federal court,” she later told reporters in explaining her decision.

Crundwell, 60, was sentenced in February to 19 years and 7 months in federal prison for stealing nearly $54 million from the small northwestern Illinois town in what authorities have called the largest municipal fraud in the country’s history. She had pleaded guilty in November to a single count of wire fraud and admitted to money laundering.

Crundwell’s lawyers have previously filed notice that they plan to appeal her lengthy federal sentence.

Sacco-Miller’s predecessor, Henry Dixon, filed the multiple theft charges in Lee County last fall amid concerns that Crundwell faced up to only 10 years in prison for the lone federal fraud count. Dixon Mayor Jim Burke said Tuesday he was among those pushing for the local charges as “an insurance policy” against a light sentence.

Dixon was up for re-election at the time, but he has previously denied the decision to file the local charges was politically motivated. On Tuesday Sacco-Miller said she too would have filed state charges if she held the office then. However, Sacco-Miller said she has since determined if Crundwell was convicted on the local charges, her prison term would have run concurrent with her federal sentence.

In addition, Sacco-Miller said, prosecuting the case would have cost taxpayers at least $300,000, a price tag that would rise in the likely event the case was transferred to a different county because of the anger in Dixon over the thefts. The state’s attorney would still have the option of refiling the charges if the federal appeal ends up sharply reducing Crundwell’s sentence.

Crundwell, who was taken into custody after her sentencing in February, did not attend Tuesday’s hearing.

Lee County public defender Bob Thompson, who represented Crundwell in the state case, had asked that the charges be dismissed, citing double jeopardy laws. On Tuesday he credited Sacco-Miller for doing “the right thing” and agreed that Crundwell wouldn’t have faced any additional prison time if she was convicted of the state charges

“It would only be a punishment for the taxpayers,” Thompson told reporters.

Taxpayers already took a hit from the thefts that crippled the city budget while Crundwell lived a lavish lifestyle and operated a championship horse-breeding operation.

Burke said he understood Sacco-Miller’s reasoning for dropping the charges but still wished that Crundwell would be locked up longer.

Sacco-Miller said she hoped Tuesday’s dismissal would allow residents to “start the healing process,” but Burke said closure won’t come until the city recoups some of its money.

The U.S. Marshals Service has been working to do just that for the town best known as the boyhood home of President Ronald Reagan. Authorities have raised more than $12 million from the sale of Crundwell’s 400 horses, ranch, other property, a luxury motor home, dozens of vehicles, jewelry and hundreds of personal items. The sale of her home in Florida closed Monday and three remaining vehicles are on the auction block through May 7.

“If (Crundwell) did anything right, she did allow the city to generate additional revenue by giving up assets early on in the case, voluntarily giving them up,” said Jason Wojdylo, chief inspector for the Marshals Service.

After accounting for money owed to lien holders and the Marshals Service for the expensive care of Crundwell’s hundreds of horses across the country, Wojdylo said he expects about $10 million to ultimately be returned to Dixon coffers. That doesn’t include some assets marshals are still pursuing such as Crundwell’s partnership in about 350 acres of farmland.

“I think probably justice was served as much as it will be,” Dixon resident Joyce Gibson, 79, said Tuesday outside the Lee County courthouse. “We’ll never recover all that money.”

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©2013 Chicago Tribune

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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