American Quarter Horse Association
Rita Crundwell is seen with one of her horses at an American Quarter Horse Association event.
The chief financial officer of a small Illinois city -- a woman who had a lavish lifestyle that included a $2.1 million motor home and a horse farm -- is under arrest, accused of embezzling $30 million from the city.
Rita Crundwell, 58, was arrested Tuesday at City Hall in Dixon, Ill., the Chicago Tribune reported, and later charged with wire fraud.
Paid a salary of $80,000 a year, Crundwell spent large sums to operate her 150-horse Meri-J Ranch, as well as $340,000 on jewelry and $2.1 million on a luxury motor home, the FBI alleges in its criminal complaint.
"I guess people assumed she was making a ton of money in the horse business," the Tribune quoted Dixon Mayor James Burke as saying about her apparent wealth.
Burke went to the FBI after an employee covering for Crundwell while she was away discovered an unusual bank account with multiple six-figure transactions. The account was in the city's name but included "RSCDA" as a co-account holder, and that turned out to be Crundwell, the FBI said. Funds from the account had been withdrawn over time.
Purchases allegedly made by Crundwell with city funds include a $146,000 Kenworth truck, a $140,000 Freightliner truck, a $57,000 Chevy Silverado pickup and a $259,000 horse trailer.
Dixon, a city of 15,000 and boyhood home of President Ronald Reagan, has an annual budget of less than $9 million a year. The city has had budget cuts over the years, Burke said, but Crundwell argued some of the financial shortfalls were due to funds owed by the state.
Burke said Crundwell had worked for the city since she was a teenager and was appointed comptroller in the early 1980s.
The FBI didn't know how the $30 million compares to past cases of public embezzlement.
"We don’t keep official records or rankings of such things," FBI spokesman Royden Rice told msnbc.com. "Suffice it to say, according to the complaint, this was a very large fraud considering the size of Dixon."
Burke on Wednesday issued a statement trying to make sense of how so much money could have been embezzled.
"We realize the main question is how can someone allegedly steal 30 million dollars and get away with it for so long?" he said, and then explained that two accounting firms prepare an annual audit, while the state also reviews city documents. None ever cited "red flags," Burke said.
He added that the city will try to claim some of Crundwell's assets and it "will be interviewing and retaining a new certified public accounting firm to conduct the annual city audit."
As for Crundwell, her Meri-J Ranch says on its website that horses bred by her have won 52 world championships.
Crundwell is well known on the horse circuit, having appeared at countless shows.
Several YouTube videos by the American Quarter Horse Association relate her success raising and showing horses, and already on Wednesday some viewers were voicing their anger.
"Rita Crundwell should be banished from all (record) books and be forced to give back all trophies and of course these is no money to give back but she should be banished from all records," wrote one YouTube viewer. "The reserve winners should get their rightful earnings and trophies."
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