How a Small-Town City Employee Stole Nearly $54M in Public Money

Dixon, Illinois, is a small town about a hundred miles west of Chicago. It’s long been known as the boyhood home of former President Ronald Reagan, but it’s gained notoriety in recent years as the site of one of the most outrageous cases of municipal fraud in modern times.

Former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell was convicted for stealing nearly $54 million from the town over the course of 20 years and spending it on a lavish lifestyle, including multiple homes in Illinois and Florida and a farm to house her award-winning quarter horses. A documentary airing Thursday on WTTW attempts to find out how she got away with it for so long.

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“All the Queen’s Horses” was directed and produced by Kelly Richmond Pope, an associate professor at DePaul’s accounting school.

“I teach a lot of my accounting classes with film and TV. That may sound odd, but it makes it interesting,” Richmond Pope said. “When I read the headlines … I was shocked. I first said, ‘Where’s Dixon?’ And I thought, someone needs to tell this story about how it happened. I started reading, started going back and forth to Dixon, and was mesmerized by it.”

While the scope of Crundwell’s theft is notable, Richmond Pope says it wasn’t a particularly complicated scheme: all she did was transfer city funds into a sham account she controlled.

“It’s common for the person that controls the money, everyone trusts that person,” Richmond Pope said. “No one asked a lot of questions. Whatever Rita said is what they did. It made it easy for her to get away with this for a really long time.”

Richmond Pope says the story is instructive because without proper checks and balances, fraud can flourish in towns large and small.

“This isn’t a Dixon story,” she said. “This is an anywhere, any place, anybody story.”

“All the Queen’s Horses” airs Thursday, Friday and Wednesday on WTTW 11 and WTTW Prime.

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