The former comptroller of west suburban Dixon has pleaded guilty on charges of stealing $53 million from taxpayers and pocketing the money for her own use.
Rita Crundwell, 58, is accused of spending the stolen cash on a lavish lifestyle that included running champion horse stables.
"For over 20 years, Rita Crundwell was living the dream. Unfortuntely this dream was being funded by the taxpayers of the city of Dixon," said FBI Special Agent Bill Monroe.
Prosecutors said Crundwell began stealing tax dollars in 1990 by creating phony invoices and transferring the money into another account that she allegedly used for personal expenses such as $2 million for a motor home. The scheme unraveled when a coworker discovered the secret bank account.
"Twenty one years of this going on and never being caught just defies the imagination. I think it should have and could have been caught," said Gary Shapiro, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Northen District of Illinois.
Crundwell previously pleaded not guilty to wire fraud, which carried a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison, and 60 related felony theft counts in Lake County but changed her plea Wednesday in Rockford Federal Court.
Her sentencing was scheduled for Feb. 14. The judge denied a motion from the prosecution to detail Crundwell saying she's not a flight risk.
Dixon Mayor James Burke told the Associated Press Tuesday he welcomed Crundwell's plea change and said he hopes the city can recoup more of its losses.
"This is very good news," he told The AP. "If she wanted to continue with not guilty pleas, she could have dragged this out for two or three years."
The plea could mean millions of dollars in restitution for the town as it will allow U.S. marshals to start selling off millions in assets under Crundwell's name. They include $450,000 in diamonds, a house in Florida and ranch land.
Proceeds from the sale would go toward helping the town of Dixon.