Rita Crundwell: Free on Bond

Rita Crundwell: Free on Bond

Updated April 19, 2012

A World Champion AQHA horse breeder accused of stealing millions to support her lavish horse show habit is out on bond a day after her arrest.

US Magistrate Judge Michael Mahoney freed Rita Crundwell on her own recognizance with a set of conditions. She is prohibited from selling her horses or property and must stay in northern Illinois and western Wisconsin. She has horse farms in both locations according to the criminal complaint. The judge also ordered her to turn over two guns.

Crundwell is on unpaid leave from her job as comptroller for the city of Dixon, Illinois. She is accused of misappropriating more that $30 million dollars in city funds over six years to finance her Meri-J Ranch and horse show lifestyle. She purchased a $2.1 million Coach Motor Home, a semi-truck, and more than $200,000 horse trailer among other items, allegedly with funds from the city. The criminal complaint states Crundell paid $2.5 million off her American Express bill with the money between January 2007 and March 2012. Her monthly jewelry bill averaged over $5,000.

The US State’s Attorney calls it one of the largest “theft of taxpayer money” cases in recent times.

The town’s yearly operating budget is between $8 million and $9 million according to the mayor. He addressed the situation which he called “traumatic” in a statement. The city has an annual audit performed by two firms – Clifton, Larsen, Allen and Samuel S. Card, Sterling. Those results and the Illinois Comptroller’s review, according to the mayor, never disclosed any issues of non-compliance.

While allegedly stealing from the city Crundwell received a salary of $80,000 and four weeks paid vacation. Crundwell also received farm subsidies of almost $20,000 from 2006 through 2010 according to the subsidy database.

Crundwell took an additional 12 weeks of unpaid vacation in 2011 – the person filling in raised questions regarding some of the accounts which led to the investigation.

Many American Quarter Horse Association members who bred to Crundwell’s stallions are concerned about obtaining breeder’s certificates. The association released a statement addressing member concerns regarding registration documents saying, “AQHA has not been contacted by authorities handling the case and has not received any court orders associated with horses recorded in Crundwell’s name or her business’ name. If official notices are received, AQHA will proceed in accordance with its standard operating procedures and the orders of legal authorities, which will include assisting our members that are potentially impacted with how to proceed with obtaining any required paperwork.”

Crundwell waived her right to a preliminary hearing and will be back in court May 7. She is charged with one count of wire fraud. Authorities say the investigation in on-going.