UPDATE: Rita Crundwell has pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the fraud charge against her.
Of Glitz And Bling And Embezzled Things
In the quiet town of Dixon, Illinois, long-time comptroller Rita Crundwell is alleged to have embezzled over $30 million to fund a private horse farm, a lavish motor home, and expensive jewelry. The horse farm in question, Meri-J Farm is well-known for its high-quality quarter horses that were predominantly local champions in the western riding scene. Crundwell was well-known for her elite horses, most recently praised for her mare ‘Pizzazzy Lady’, who won the 2011 American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show in Oklahoma City.
Though audits did not reveal any sign of unusually high spending, it was eventually unusually high spending amount on her American Express cards that revealed the excess amount of money. Over $2.5 million was reported spent on the card, which Crundwell reimbursed with city funds. Residing in the quoted “boyhood home” of Ronald Reagan, Crundwell also sustained a ‘secret bank account’ which was reported to have been discovered by a fellow staffer who grew suspicious. Though it continues to puzzle many how so much money was siphoned undetected, this event has proved traumatic to the city. The final estimate for funds siphoned from city funds totals at $30,235,503, of which only a mere six checks totalling $153,745 were spent on city-related matters.
Crundwell is a major horse breeder, and influential member of the horse community, and these allegations have left fissures in the western community as well. One of the flashiest disciplines of riding, western pleasure riding has often been stereotyped as one of the ‘flashier’ disciplines: equipment is often adorned with shiny silver, riders wear sparkling outfits, and it is customary for women to wear jewelry and makeup. In a show ring full of bedazzled competitors and ritzy horses, its no wonder Crundwell’s impressive spending didn’t cause her peers to bat an eye. Afterall, this isn’t the first incidence of horses and embezzlement out there.