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Rita Crundwell case: Ex-Dixon comptroller to plead guilty to theft of $53 million, US says

Robert Ray / AP file

Rita Crundwell, former comptroller for Dixon, Ill., leaves federal court in Rockford, Ill., May 7.

A former longtime comptroller for Dixon, Ill., now is expected to plead guilty to charges she stole $53 million from the city’s accounts and used it to fund her renowned horse-breeding business and lavish lifestyle, federal prosecutors say.

Rita Crundwell is scheduled to enter her new plea on Wednesday morning before U.S. District Judge Philip G. Reinhard in federal Court in Rockford, Ill., the Justice Department said in a news release.

Crundwell, 59, had pleaded not guilty in May to a single federal count of wire fraud.

Prosecutors allege that since 1990, Crundwell stole more than $53 million from Dixon, where she oversaw public finances as the city comptroller, by diverting it to an account she had set up for personal use, then misleading city officials.

Authorities say Crundwell used the money to buy luxury homes and vehicles, and spent millions on her horse-breeding operation, RC Quarter Horses LLC, which produced 52 world champions in exhibitions run by the American Quarter Horse Association.

Wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The federal case is separate from 60 state theft charges filed against her by prosecutors in Illinois.

Dixon Mayor Jim Burke said in September that the state charges were a backup plan in case the federal trial fell flat.

“The way we were pushing this was to get some insurance that if it was a slap on the wrist that there would be more from the state,” Burke was quoted as saying by WQAD.com

More than 400 horses and a luxury motor home once owned by Crundwell have been auctioned off by federal authorities, according to media reports. If Crundwell is convicted, much of the money will be returned to Dixon – after the federal government takes its cut for caring for the horses for months, The Chicago Tribune reported.

Dixon, with a population of approximately 15,733, is about 100 miles southwest of Chicago.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Prosecutors allege that for years Rita Crundwell, a champion quarter horse breeder, kept a $53 million secret. Rock Center correspondent Harry Smith reports.

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