Quarter Horse Breeder Crundwell Pleads Guilty to Federal Fraud Charge

Rita Crundwell, the high-profile Quarter Horse breeder accused of embezzling millions of dollars from the city of Dixon, Ill., coffers, has pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, under a plea deal entered in federal court in Illinois on Wednesday (Nov. 14).

Earlier this year a federal grand jury in Illinois indicted Crundwell for allegedly misappropriating $53 million in funds from Dixon, where she had served as comptroller since the 1980s. Federal law enforcement agents later arrested Crundwell and charged her with one count of wire fraud. Since her arrest, Crundwell has been free on her own recognizance.

A federal court judge later placed more than 400 horses forfeited in connection with the case in the custody of the U. S. Marshals Service. Professional Auction Services, Inc. was hired to carry out the sale of the horses and related equipment at auction. The horses, stallion semen, horse trailers, and other equipment were sold for a total of $4.7 million during online and live auctions.

On May 4, Crundwell pleaded not guilty to the wire fraud charge.

On Nov. 14, U.S. Attorney Joseph C. Pedersen said Crundwell appeared in U.S. District Court in Rockford, Ill., and changed her plea to guilty under a plea agreement. Under the agreement, Crundwell admitted to stealing more than $53 million from Dixon and using it to finance her Quarter Horse breeding business, horse show appearances, and other equestrian activities. Under the deal, she also admitted that she engaged in illegal money laundering in connection with the embezzlement. Also under terms of the deal, Crundwell agreed that she owes restitution to Dixon totaling $53,740,394, minus any credit for funds repaid prior to sentencing, Pedersen said. She also agreed to the entry of a forfeiture judgment in the same amount, he said.

Crundwell's attorney, Paul Graziano, assistant defender for the Federal Defender Program, said that the plea agreement spares taxpayers the cost of a lengthy trial, and that Crundwell has cooperated with federal authorities since the onset of the case.

"Today Rita Crundwell admitted her guilt, saving the government the burden and expense of a lengthy trial," Graziano said. "Rita is truly remorseful and since her arrest has worked diligently with the government to accomplish the sale of her assets including her beloved horses so that the City of Dixon can recoup its losses. I think it's important for the people of Dixon to know that."

The charge against Crundwell carries maximum penalties of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or an alternate fine totaling twice the cost of the loss or twice the gain, whichever is greater. The plea agreement allows the government and defense attorneys to recommend whatever sentence they deem appropriate. Pedersen said the government anticipates that the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines range will be 15 years and 8 months to 19 years and 7 months, while the defense position advisory range is 12 years and 7 months to 15 years and 8 months.

Crundwell is slated to appear before Senior U.S. District Judge Philip G. Reinhard on Feb. 14, 2013, for sentencing. She remains free on her own recognizance.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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