Jailed fraudster’s 767 horse trophies to be sold by US Marshals

Crundwell’s trophies and awards line the walls of a storage space in Wisconsin.
Crundwell’s trophies and awards line the walls of a storage space in Wisconsin. Photo: US Marshal’s Service

A huge haul of 767 trophies and 122 plaques seized from American quarter horse breeder Rita Crundwell, who plundered more then $US50 million from a US city when she worked as its financial controller, will be sold.

The US Marshals Service has confirmed it is selling Crundwell’s trophy and awards collection as part of its ongoing efforts to recoup the $US53.7 million Crundwell stole over two decades from the small Illinois city of Dixon.

The money was instrumental in Crundwell building her quarter-horse empire, becoming one of the top breeders in the US. Many thought her wealth had stemmed from her success in the quarter horse industry.

She also funded a lavish lifestyle from her ill-gotten gains.

The Marshal’s Service said the trophies were won at horse shows over a 22-year period.

“These trophies and awards symbolize the motivation of Rita Crundwell to boldly steal money from Dixon taxpayers,” said Chief Inspector Jason Wojdylo, with the US Marshals Asset Forfeiture Division.

“They were her prized possessions, second only to the horses themselves.

“We have been asked if an opportunity exists to donate the trophy and awards collection to a non-profit organization,” Wojdylo said.

“Unfortunately, federal regulations don’t provide us with that option in this instance. However, there is nothing to prevent someone desiring to be a benefactor, for example, from bidding on the collection.

“Should that person place the winning bid, he or she could then make a charitable donation of the trophy and awards collection to an eligible non-profit [group] of their choosing.”

Crundwell had accumulated more than 750 trophies during her time as a quarter horse breeder. Photo: US Marshal's Service
Crundwell had accumulated more than 750 trophies during her time as a quarter horse breeder. Photo: US Marshal’s Service

The agency is inviting sealed bids for the collection, with a deadline of November 30.

Not included in the sale are 152 belt buckles, which will be sold in smaller lots in a separate online auction of other Crundwell assets in November.

Crundwell, in her early 60s, was jailed early in 2013 for 19 years and seven months for her fraud – just five months short of the maximum jail term available for wire fraud. She must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence.

It was believed to be the largest theft of public funds in state history.

Following her arrest in April last year, Crundwell agreed to the sale of the assets she had acquired from her fraud to provide restitution to Dixon, a city of just 16,000 people.

The US Marshals Service initially recovered more than $US12.38 million from sales, including online and live auctions, of about 400 quarter horses, vehicles, trailers, tack, a luxury motor home, jewelry and personal belongings. Crundwell’s real estate was also to be sold.

Under federal law, the government may continue to seek additional assets of a defendant and obtain restitution for up to 20 years after a defendant is released from prison.

Crundwell began working for Dixon’s finance department in 1970 while still in high school, and she was appointed comptroller/treasurer in 1983.

She began the fraud scheme on December 18, 1990, when she opened a secret bank account, which she alone controlled, in the name of the City of Dixon.

It was known as the RSCDA account. The initials stood for “Reserve Sewer Capital Development Account” although no-such account actually existed for the city, and Crundwell did not disclose its existence.

At her sentencing, authorities also presented evidence that Crundwell stole at least $US25,000 from a separate Dixon bank account for its Sister City program between 1988 and 1990 before her fraud scheme began.

Crundwell began transferring money from city accounts to the RSCDA account in January 1991.

Subsequently, she used her position as comptroller to transfer funds from Dixon’s Money Market account and various other city accounts to its Capital Development Fund account.

She then repeatedly transferred city funds from the Capital Development Account into the RSCDA account and used the money to pay for her personal and private business expenses, including horse-farming operations, personal credit card payments, real estate and vehicles.

In 1991, she transferred more than $US181,000 to the RSCDA account. As the fraud scheme continued, the amounts she stole increased to a high of $US5.8 million in 2008, and she took an average of more than $US2.5 million a year over the 20-year course of the scheme.

While she was stealing the money, Crundwell participated in budget meetings with city council members and various city department heads. She repeatedly stated that the city’s lack of funds was due to a downturn in the economy and because the State of Illinois was behind in its payments.

An FBI photo show some of the awards on display in Crundwell’s trophy room in her former Red Brick Road ranch in Dixon, Illinois, in 2012.
An FBI photo show some of the awards on display in Crundwell’s trophy room in her former Red Brick Road ranch in Dixon, Illinois, in 2012.

At the time she made those statements, Crundwell was stealing millions of dollars, causing Dixon to cut its budget, which had a significant impact on city operations.

As part of the fraud scheme, Crundwell created 159 fictitious invoices purported to be from the State of Illinois to show the city’s auditors that the funds she was fraudulently depositing into the RSCDA account were being used for a legitimate purpose. In one instance, on September 8, 2009, Crundwell wrote checks for $US150,000 and $US200,000 drawn on two of the city’s multiple bank accounts.

She deposited both checks into Dixon’s Capital Development Fund account and, later the same day, wrote a check for $US350,000 payable to “Treasurer” and deposited that check into the secret RSCDA account.

Crundwell created a fictitious invoice to support the payment of $US350,000 to the State of Illinois that falsely indicated the payment was for a sewer project in Dixon that the state completed. Later, on September 8, 2009, Crundwell wrote a check drawn on the RSCDA account for $US225,000, which she deposited into her personal RC Quarter Horses account.

She used that money to cover a $US225,000 check, dated September 1, 2009, drawn on the RC Quarter Horses account to purchase a quarter horse named Pizzazzy Lady. The purchase check would not have cleared if Crundwell had not deposited $US225,000, using city funds, into her horse account.

To conceal the scheme, Crundwell picked up the city’s mail, including bank statements for the RSCDA account, to prevent other employees from learning about the secret account.

When she was away, she asked a relative or other city employees to pick up the mail and separate any of her mail, including the statements for the RSCDA account, from the rest of the city’s mail.

Dixon’s mayor reported Crundwell to law enforcement authorities in the fall of 2011 after another city employee assumed her duties during an extended unpaid vacation.

Crundwell, whose annual salary was $US80,000, received four weeks of paid vacation and she took an additional 12 weeks of unpaid vacation in 2011.

While Crundwell was absent, her replacement requested all of the city’s bank statements. After reviewing them, the employee brought the records of the RSCDA account to the attention of the mayor, who was unaware of the account’s existence.

While serving as Dixon’s comptroller, Crundwell also owned RC Quarter Horses, LLC, and kept her horses at her ranch on Red Brick Road in Dixon and the Meri-J Ranch in Beloit, Wisconsin, as well as with various trainers across the country.

In addition to the horses and all of their equipment, among the assets seized or restrained were Crundwell’s two residences and horse farm in Dixon, a home in Englewood, Florida, 80 acres of vacant land in Lee County, a 2009 luxury motor home, more than four dozen trucks, trailers and other motorized farm vehicles, a 2005 Ford Thunderbird convertible, a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette roadster, a pontoon boat, jewelry, and about $US224,898 in cash from two bank accounts.

More information is available at www.usmarshals.gov/assets/sales.htm.

Crundwell's trophy room at her Dixon, Illinois, home was packed. Photo: FBI
Crundwell’s trophy room at her Dixon, Illinois, home was packed. Photo: FBI

 

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