6:50 AM EST, February 13, 2013
Rita Crundwell lived like a queen, with two beautiful homes and a stable of 400 award winning quarter horses. She has fancy cars—a '67 Corvette and a Ford Thunderbird. She even travelled in a million-dollar motor home.
INSIDE EDITION was given a tour inside Crundwell’s luxurious digs and she clearly appreciates the Old West. Her home is complete with custom-made horse saddle barstools, handcrafted furniture with cattle horned feet and her master bedroom has an impressive king-size bed with a steer head and cowhide adorning the headboard.
So, what's the secret of her success? After all, she’s a government bureaucrat who never made more than $80,000 a year, working for the city of Dixon, Illinois.
How could she afford such luxury? Crundwell is a master thief.
"Rita, why did you steal $53 million from the people of Dixon?” asked INSIDE EDITION’s Lisa Guerrero when she caught up with Crundwell. "How did you get away with it?" Crundwell never answered.
Watch the entire video segment here.
The citizens of Dixon still can't get over it.
"Honestly, I just couldn't believe it," said one resident.
"Just unbelievable, it's such a huge amount for such a small town," said another.
Dixon is a typical Midwestern community of 15,000 people and is the boyhood home of the late President Ronald Reagan. Rita Crundwell started working full time for the city government after graduating high school in 1971 and she kept at it for more than 40 years, rising to the position of city comptroller.
"Rita opened the bank accounts, she signed the checks, she deposited the checks, she received the checks, she did it all, so there were no checks and balances," explained Dr. Kelly Richmond Pope, Professor of Aaccounting at DePaul University. "So any person in that situation could steal if they wanted to."
While Rita Crundwell lined her pockets with millions of dollars of the town’s money, the city of Dixon suffered. The town’s streets were falling apart, there were staff cutbacks, wages were frozen, police budgets slashed. Where did all the money go? It went straight into Rita Crundwell's pockets.
Guerrero asked a group of Dixon civic leaders, "What do you think the rest of the country is going to think about Dixon?"
"We're a laughing stock. We're the town they took all the money from. We couldn't catch a woman for twenty years. It's embarrassing,” said one resident.
Illinois state Senator Tim Bivens asked, "How could this happen. How could this much money disappear without anyone knowing?"
The man supervising Crundwell for 20 years was Roy Bridgeman, Commissioner of Finance for the city of Dixon. A year before she was arrested, he praised Crundwell’s work, calling her, "A big asset to the city as she looks after every tax dollar as if it were her own," a statement now filled with irony.
Bridgeman, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
After Bridgeman didn't return our calls, Guerrero caught up with him at, of all places, his country club. "How was she able to steal millions of dollars on your watch? Don't you feel you owe an explanation to the people of Dixon?" Bridgeman didn’t answer.
Since Crundwell admitted to stealing $53 million, federal authorities are in the process of auctioning off her property. So far, they’ve raised close to $9 million. Her most-prized award-winning quarter horse sold for a mind-blowing $775,000.
Crundwell has not spoken a word in public since her arrest. We tried one more time as she left a court hearing. Guerrero asked, "Do you think you were just smarter than everybody else, Rita? You scammed people; you ripped them off, here in Dixon. Rita, don’t have anything at all to say to them?"
Rita Crundwell will be sentenced on February 14th on federal charges. She faces 20 years behind bars.