Rita Crundwell will be sentenced for stealing $53 million dollars from the city of Dixon on Valentine's Day, and there is no love lost between Rita and her former co-workers. The mayor of Dixon says he hopes the judge throws the book at her in federal court in Rockford.
"I hope she gets the max," said Mayor Jim Burke. He and several other city officials plan to be at the sentencing, where Crundwell could receive up to 20 years in prison.
"I hope she makes some kind of statement. I don't know if she's got any contrition or regrets. The regrets might be she got caught. While all this was going on she knew how bad things were in the city. She had a ring-side seat. And she just continued to steal money, while all this was going on, just continued to steal," Burke said.
Former Dixon Mayor Jim Dixon believes Crundwell deserves 20 years as well.
"I try not to blame anyone but Rita. She's the one who took the money. She's smart. Everyone overlooks the fact that she knew what she was doing. She's no dummy," Dixon said.
Crundwell started working for the city while still in high school. With no formal accounting training, she rose through the ranks of City Hall, becoming the "go-to" numbers person for the part-time mayor and commissioners. She was both comptroller and treasurer, in charge of city finances.
"The public officials who are on the council are part-time amateurs and they relied on her. She was our "professional" city manager. The people that had oversight, were amateurs. Makes it pretty easy to get away with," said Dixon, an attorney by trade. "I'm a lawyer, not an accountant, I was in that position as a part-time mayor."
The city of Dixon is now suing two accounting firms to try and recoup some or all of the money. The largest, Clifton Larsen Allen, the firm that did the books for years is being sued for gross negligence.
"Rita Crundwell stole money and stole a lot of money for many years, but that's what you have an auditior for, to identify fraud and mis-statement in the City of Dixon," said Devon Bruce, the Chicago attorney handling the case.
"What we found is one of the nation's largest accounting firms for over 15 to 20 years, missed every year, year over year, they missed Rita's theft of millions and millions of dollars," Bruce said in an interview with WQAD.
The suit claims Clifton knew about Rita's secret bank account and didn't investigate. It questions why the firm performed Crundwell's personal tax returns for twenty years and didn't question why in one year, she spent $300,000 more than she made.
The suit also points to 179 fake invoices created by Crundwell, which were supposedly from the Illinois Department of Transportation. Crundwell wrote $44 million dollars worth of checks to herself based on the phony invoices, which appear different than the real deal. The phony ones don't have an IDOT logo, there's no contact phone number, the word "section" is misspelled as "secton," and the fonts are different.
"All of those are red flags that Clifton should have identified, should have followed up on and it would have simply been a two-minute phone call to Springfield," Bruce said.
"At the end of the day, I think a Lee County jury when they are shown all the facts will agree with me, that Clifton was grossly negligent. Of all the people that were responsible for what happened, who are the true professionals? There are many ways Clifton should have identified this fraud when Rita stole the money and there were paid to do so, they let down the City of Dixon," said Bruce.
A media statement sent by Clifton Larson Allen to WQAD says the firm did everything right, and said the types of audits the firm performed for the City of Dixon did not "require the sort of detailed testing needed to uncover the fraud or a forensic investigation" to know that Crundwell was fabricating invoices.
"We believe we met our obligation to provide the city's officials with information about its finances. Among other steps we advised various city officials in writing on multiple occasions that a significant deficiency did exist in its internal controls involving lack of segregation of duties."
Crundwell served as both comptroller and treasurer for the City of Dixon.
Former Mayor Dixon says in hindsight, there should have been more oversite of the hometown girl who used the city and tax dollars as her own personal lottery jackpot.
"It was a mistake to employ her as treasurer and comptroller," he says. "But people had grown to trust her, she was one of the ladies from the community, she's going to be a good girl and take care of us. And she robbed us blind."
Crundwell still faces 60 state charges in Lee County.