Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2013, 2:45 pm

Editorial: Another Crundwell trial; who will really pay for it

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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus

Photo: AP Photo/Courtesy of The American Quarter Horse Journal, File
FILE - This November 2011 file photo provided April 18, 2012 by The American Quarter Horse Journal shows RIta Crundwell, of Dixon, Ill., posing with Pizzazzy Lady at the 2011 American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show in Oklahoma City. Crundwell is accused stealing $53 million from the small city in northern Illinois by siphoning public funds into a secret bank account opened in 1990 while she was Dixon's comptroller. A judge on Thursday, May 3, 2012, granted the government's request for forfeiture of the 311 animals owned by Crundwell, which are now in the care of U.S. marshals. Federal prosecutors contend she used the funds to sustain a lavish lifestyle and her horse breeding operation. Crundwell was regarded as one of the best horse breeders in the country.
We can understand the Dixon community's anguish and anger.

The level of betrayal committed by former comptroller Rita Crundwell in fleecing taxpayers there of more than $53 million is unprecedented. It brings to mind the arrogance and inhumanity of the infamous Bernie Madoff.

Though he took off with billions of dollars from thousands of investors in a Ponzi scheme of epic proportions, when taken in context, what Ms. Crundwell did may be even worse.

After all, the taxpayers -- her neighbors and friends -- from whom she stole so blithely didn't willingly invest their money with a charming snake who turned out to be a charlatan. They anticipated no risk in faithfully paying their tax bills and yet their losses were staggering.

We were among those who applauded U.S. District Judge Philip Reinhard for sentencing the 60-year-old embezzler and betrayer of the public trust to nearly 20 years in federal prison.

So it might be surprising to learn that we hope her lawyers are successful in their effort to get the state to drop 60 charges against the celebrated horsewoman, who gained fame thanks to her Northern Illinois town's checkbook.

Better still, we urge prosecutors not to proceed with the charges despite the urging of folks like Dixon Mayor Jim Burke who says the city wants the thief back in court. According to a report on WNIJ Radio, state prosecutors had asked city officials after her federal sentencing for input regarding the Lee County felony theft charges. If reports are correct, that any sentence handed down by a state court would run concurrently with her federal sentence, exactly who will pay for the crime?

Taxpayers will have to bear the costs of another complex and involved prosecution with little payoff. Even presuming a year or two were added to the sentence Ms. Crundwell already is serving, does it justify the costs to the state, Lee County and the citizens of Dixon? Haven't they already paid enough?

As for Ms. Crundwell, if she is like most inmates, she will suffer from intense boredom behind bars. Often they welcome court appearances for the change of scenery and the contact with people they don't usually encounter in lockup. Isn't it nice to wear civilian clothes? Fix your hair? Eat a meal that's not prepared inside? Why should taxpayers who have spent millions for her entertainment pleasure continue to treat her to more?

Unless there are burning questions that could be answered in another trial, or there is a prospect of increasing her time behind bars dramatically, there appears to be little point in dragging out the affair. We understand the desire for revenge. But it's important to pay attention who ultimately pays the price for it.