Treasurer Embezzles $30 Million in One of the Biggest Cases of Municipal Fraud
It seems Bell isn’t the only city that has made headlines for a staggering lack of financial oversight and a complete breakdown of financial safeguards, thereby leaving the door wide open for corruption and abuse of city finances. In what is being described as one of the biggest cases of municipal fraud, the longtime treasurer and comptroller of Dixon, Illinois is accused of stealing $30 million from the city over the last six years!
It’s safe to say financial controls are in pretty bad shape when that amount of money is pilfered for years with no one noticing. Rita Crundwell, the long-serving city employee accused of the crime, basically had complete control of the city’s finances, and she certainly made use of that control by treating herself to champion horse breeding farms, buying a $2.1 million luxury motor home, and $340,000 in jewelry. Her city salary was $80,000 a year, but clearly that wasn’t enough for the extravagant lifestyle that Crundwell wanted to live out.
Cash-strapped local governments may be wondering how an employee could steal an amount of money that is more than the annual police and fire department budgets combined in each of the last six years. Audits raised no red flags each year, despite the fact that thousands of dollars were frequently transferred into a city bank account that only Crundwell managed. And city officials simply didn’t notice the disappearance of huge sums of taxpayer dollars.
Now that Crundwell has been arrested, the finger-pointing has begun with the blame game in full effect as angry residents demand answers about why city leaders and auditors didn’t notice the embezzlement right under their noses.
American City & County also points out that “Dixon’s commission form of government, with each council member responsible for a particular city function, may also have helped keep the alleged fraud from being detected. […] A similar commission style of government was in place in Bell, Calif., where the mayor, city manager, city council members and other officials were accused of fraud. The officials were accused of bilking the city out of $5.5 million by paying themselves huge salaries for mostly non-existent duties.”