Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Grand Theft!

Have you heard about the arrest of a small Illinois town comptroller, accused of massive embezzlement of the town’s funds - $30 million worth!- a woman who used the stolen funds to become a famous Quarter Horse breeder, and who won the AQHA breeder of the year several times recently? The woman who did all this, and was recently caught by the FBI, and arrested, is Rita Crundwell, from the sleepy town of Dixon, Illinois, in the northern section of the state. She held the position of town comptroller for years, yet had developed two large ranches nearby and a third one in southern Wisconsin, an enormously expensive undertaking, using funds that she systematically stole from the town’s funds. I am very, very offended by this, on three levels. As a financial professional myself, I hate embezzlement of any kind. To steal from one’s employer is grievously wrong and is the antithesis of the professionalism and trust the employer places in the accounting staff. She made a surprisingly high salary in her job- $80,000 a year, which shocks me. For a small town to pay such a huge sum is shocking. That salary is quite comfortable, but still she stole millions! From the taxpayers, which essentially means she stole from her neighbors, her friends (if she had any), her family, her coworkers, her boss, every tax-paying store owner and vendor (including the horse-related vendors – vets, feed dealers, tack dealers, repairmen, farm staff, etc) she encountered, she stole their tax dollars right out from under them. It is immoral, unethical and despicable. That is the second reason she offends me – she stole from hardworking taxpayers that she had lived among and worked among all her life.

And the third reason I am so offended and angry at her is that she became a horse person. I don’t and can’t call her a horsewoman, because she is the exact opposite of everything a good horsewoman is. She has sullied and hurt the reputation of every horse-related person in the country. To acquire and care for horses using stolen funds is appalling! It demonstrates the lack of care for horses, not care for horses. She also used the funds to develop and compete her horses and breed them, and she won lots of awards, big awards from the AQHA and other smaller associations. She essentially conned and deceived the other horse people she interacted with. She was a criminal and a con woman.

Her horses competed as halter horses, and one article that I read included a photograph of her and one of her horses. When I first looked at the photo, I thought, that’s odd, that horse looks weird and distorted, his eyes are all bugged out and the back of him, what little I can see behind his head, looks huge and way out of proportion. What is wrong with this picture? That is a weird looking horse, I thought. I went to another article that had a picture of a young horse accompanying the story about Rita Crundwell, and this little horse also looked very weird, almost disfigured. I didn’t know what kind of medical problem or deformity I was looking at.

At the barn where I board, all weekend we talked about this story and I learned that many halter horses are given steroids and become weird looking and that is probably what the horses were demonstrating. I looked up on Google “halter horses steroids” and man! Did I see some ugly, gross, horrible pictures of horses on steroids! Oh, my gosh, how can a horse person not see how unnatural and disfigured a horse on steroids becomes. And how they are probably being horribly damaged internally from steroids as well. So maybe, possibly, probably, Rita used steroids on her prize winning horses, because the picture of one of her horses seemed to demonstrate steroid use.

The best website I have found on following the Rita Crundwell story is www.saukvalley.com. It is the website for a newspaper in the Dixon, IL area and they have done a lot of background on her. After all, she spent her life in this town. How can you dupe your life-long neighbors?? It’s just appalling.

I was born and raised in my early years in Indiana and Illinois. I know that people from the Midwest are some of the best in the world, salt of the earth, fabulous integrity, wonderful common sense, moral people. And to know that this woman is also from the Midwest, and conspired and committed this complex, multiple year fraud and theft, is embarrassing to me.
Yes, I have lots of questions about how she could have carried out this fraud of such huge amounts since 2006, without help, and it is my opinion that she did have help from someone. I think there are others who are also responsible and I hope the FBI is doing one hell of a thorough job to uncover them and prosecute them as well.

So currently, as of today, she is not in jail, she is out on $4500 bond. Yes, that little amount! Unbelievable. Gosh, I’m sorry but it makes me wonder, and not favorably, about the wisdom of the official who made that decision.

As I dug around the Internet on this story, I ran across two interesting other tidbits about her. One citation was a short mention at the very bottom of a page in Chronicle of the Horse. One sentence, in what I assume is the “announcements and news” section, that said that a horse sale of over 75 Quarter Horses was planned at Rita Crundwell’s Dixon, Illinois ranch on July 28, 2012. I think that this sale had been in the works for a while and is not related to her recent arrest and legal allegations. I suspect that she planned to have a late July sale of these horses and do what, I wonder, with the money. One of the legal requirements of her bail last week was that she not sell any of the horses. I wonder how they are going to enforce that? A buyer drives onto her property with a trailer, a sale occurs, a horse is loaded onto a trailer, and the new owner drives off. With over 75 horses on one of her three ranches, they must be very large ranches indeed. You are going to need some serious equine security guards to make sure none of them gets sold in the dead of night. The fact that she notified Chronicle of the Horse of her July 2012 sale makes me wonder if she thought the con was about up and she was going to be found out.

The other interesting tidbit I read about was a lawsuit brought against her by three of her, probably former, farm employees. Three Hispanic men sued her for wages and time she did not pay them for. They were hired for between $300 - $350 per week, so these men were paid very little. They made a case that she didn’t pay them all they had rightfully earned and in the end, she settled and paid $47,000 to them. Such a small, small sum of money to employees who only make appx $12,000 per year, and I’ll bet she resented every cent of it. She, who had stolen millions of other people’s money and taxes, may have resented paying hard working farm employees the small amount of $47,000! This is just my opinion, but the fact that they had to sue her meant that she didn’t want to pay them anything at all. In fact, the article said that when one of the plaintiffs mentioned being underpaid to her, she fired him. That tells me something about the type of employer she was. And to think that in the background, she hadn’t earned these funds herself- she stole them.

This woman reminds me of the characteristics from a book we read a few month's ago in Mugwump’s book club- The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. From my notes on the book, sociopaths have no conscience at all but are great actors and fakers, have no emotional attachments to others, human or animal, like to control and manipulate others, want pity so they can manipulate others’ emotions, can be very charming, are mean spirited and cold hearted, covet what others have and want to hurt those that have those “things,” want power over others, want to “win,” are risk takers and adrenaline junkies because without emotions they are often bored, some are violent and abusive, and they make you question a normal perspective of reality. I think someone who can embezzle huge sums of money for years from their own neighbors and coworkers, and set themselves up as a leader in one area of the horse world, and yet can deny their minimum paid employees a small amount of earned money, etc, etc, etc, probably has several of the above characteristics of a sociopath.

I am so appalled and angry about the theft and deception on so many levels that Rita Crundwell did. Everyone at the barn was equally angry. I hope she pays dearly for these crimes. But I feel sad for her horses. I hope all of them find nice, honest, caring, genuine new owners (who don’t use steroids).

After my long rant about this issue, I’ll just mention that I had a nice time last weekend with Buckshot. On Saturday it rained so we didn’t ride, but on Sunday we had a great ride. What a sweet horse he is!! Hope you had a great weekend also!


Grey Horse Matters said...

She's not one of the good horse people that's for sure. They really should throw the book at her. I hope her horses find good homes.

Glad you had a nice time with Buckshot, he is a sweet horse.

Carol said...

I'm behind on my blog reading and thought I'd catch up with you and Buckshot tonight. Instead I find a facinating story of fraud. Wow. Not a good ambassador for the horse world and how awful of her to treat her friends and neighbors this way.
I also read 'The Sociopath Next Door' this past winter. It was very interesting.
Glad you and Buckshot are doing well!