The former comptroller of Dixon, Illinois, has been released from prison less than halfway through her sentence for stealing nearly $54 million from the city.
Rita Crundwell, 68, was released Wednesday from the Federal Corrections Institution in Pekin, Illinois, the city of Dixon posted on Facebook.
Crundwell pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges related to the embezzlement in 2012, after prosecutors said that beginning in 1990, she stole more than $53 million from Dixon, where she oversaw public finances as the city comptroller since the 1980s.
Authorities say Crundwell bought luxury homes and vehicles, and spent millions on her horse-breeding operation, RC Quarter Horses LLC, which produced 52 world champions in exhibitions run by the American Quarter Horse Association.
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Federal prosecutors alleged Crundwell created phony invoices that she characterized as being from the state of Illinois. She then allegedly put that money from a city account into another account, which she repeatedly used for personal expenses.
Prosecutors at the time said the scheme unraveled only after a co-worker filling in for her while she was on an extended vacation stumbled upon the secret bank account.
Crundwell was sentenced to 19 years 7 months in prison beginning in February 2013, the city of Dixon said. She was to serve 85% of the sentence, officials said, and due to be released in October 2029.
But she was released from prison Wednesday after serving nearly 8-and-a-half years of her sentence, Dixon officials said, noting that the prison official who confirmed her release to the city did not know the reason.
Earlier this year, Crundwell petitioned a federal judge for an early release from prison over fears of contracting COVID-19.
“I know at my sentencing you felt I was not given a death sentence with my projected age of release of 77, but now with my deteriorating health condition, and the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel I have been given a death sentence,” she wrote in a handwritten request to Judge Philip Reinhard filed in April in federal court in Rockford, according to Sauk Valley Media.
Reinhard said she could seek compassionate release if she's exhausted all administrative avenues.
Crundwell said she is a model minimum-security prisoner, has learned new skills and has health issues including hypertension and high cholesterol.
"It is incredibly frustrating that Dixon was given no victim notification of Rita Crundwell’s release," Dixon Mayor Liandro Arellano said. "Dixonites are still dealing with the social and financial aftermath of the damage she did, and our community deserved notice of and reasoning for this decision.”