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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Former Head of Police Sergeants Union Pleads Guilty

Hall-of-Infamy corruption?
The Chicago Tribune - EDITORIAL - April 18, 2012
The feds say a Dixon official embezzled $30 million

Just another routine Tuesday on the Illinois corruption beat. In Springfield, a state representative accused of accepting a $7,000 bribe returns to the Illinois House, sitting quietly among his fellow Democrats and shaking hands. In Chicago, a former head of the police sergeants union pleads guilty to stealing more than $1 million in union dues to fund steakhouse dinners, gambling jaunts to Las Vegas and a second home.

But the real shocker of the day came from lovely Dixon, Ill., pop. 15,733. Yes, Dixon, boyhood home of Ronald Reagan, host to the annual Petunia Festival, and fabled among Lincoln buffs as the place where young Abe joined the Illinois militia to fight in the Black Hawk War of 1832. Tuesday's news was startling: A federal criminal complaint alleges that, since 2006, Dixon's chief financial officer "deposited $30,236,503.51 in funds belonging to the City of Dixon" into a secret bank account. We've read the FBI criminal complaint that the Rockford office ofU.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has filed against 58-year-old Rita Crundwell. But we've had no chance to evaluate the evidence. We'll see soon enough whether federal prosecutors can make their allegations stick; Crundwell is innocent until someone proves otherwise. For now, all of us Illinoisans are left with the amazing charges that qualify this case for a Corruption Hall of Infamy. As the feds tell it, city Comptroller Crundwell misappropriated the public money to support lavish expenditures, with some of the money going to a horse farm. Agents executed search and seizure warrants at the defendant's home and office, and at farms near Dixon and Beloit, Wis. They also seized the contents of two bank accounts Crundwell allegedly controlled. A U.S. Department of Justicenews release left us with visions of an FBI caravan rolling across the black-earth prairies: "Among other items seized were seven trucks and trailers, three pickup trucks, a $2.1 million motor home, and a Ford Thunderbird convertible, all of which were allegedly purchased with illegal proceeds." (The 2009 Liberty Coach motor home would excite anyone's inner rock-star-on-tour, although the $258,000 Featherlite horse trailer or the $146,000 Kenworth T800 tractor truck probably would prove more practical for most Illinois families.) You might think the possibility that $30 million in city funds had gone missing would attract attention in the "Petunia City," where the median household income in 2010 was $35,720. And, yes, the criminal complaint says James Burke, Dixon's mayor since 1999, reported Crundwell to authorities last fall. Crundwell, Dixon's appointed (not elected) comptroller for some three decades, draws a salary of $80,000 and receives four weeks of vacation. But last year she took an additional 12 weeks of unpaid vacation. A city employee substituting for Crundwell examined bank statements and notified the mayor of activity in an account that, according to the complaint, he didn't know existed. Bank records list the primary account holder as the City of Dixon. An entity named RSCDA also is named on the account, with checks written on the account more expansively identifying that second account holder as "R.S.C.D.A., C/O Rita Crundwell." Crundwell, perhaps the top breeder of quarter horses in the world, is charged with one count of wire fraud. If convicted, she would face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine or, according to Justice, "an alternate fine totaling twice the loss or twice the gain, whichever is greater." In this case that could be ... a lot. That also is getting ahead of things. For now we'll focus instead on the people of Dixon, struggling to absorb the allegations against a public official whom many of them know well. And we'll be in the office extra-early on Wednesday. One never knows what the Illinois corruption beat will serve up next.

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