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Rita Crundwell, who embezzled nearly $54 million from Dixon, released from federal prison

Dixon was mostly known as the hometown of Ronald Reagan before Crundwell’s crimes made headlines. And officials in Dixon are not happy about her release.

Rita Crundwell leaves a courtroom in Dixon in 2012.
Rita Crundwell, the former Dixon comptroller, has been released early from federal prison.
AP file

Rita Crundwell, who was convicted of embezzling nearly $54 million from Dixon when she worked as the comptroller of the small town 100 miles west of Chicago, has been released from prison.

In 2013, Crundwell was sentenced to 19 years, 7 months in federal prison.

“It is incredibly frustrating that Dixon was given no victim notification of Rita Crundwell’s release. 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,” Dixon Mayor Liandro Arellano said in a post on the police department’s Facebook page.

The post said Crundwell, 68, was released Wednesday from the medium-security federal prison in downstate Pekin.

Crundwell spent much of the money on maintaining a lavish lifestyle and her championship-winning horse breeding business.

The Bureau of Prisons confirmed Thursday it had transferred Crundwell to “community confinement” overseen by a residential reentry management field office, more commonly known as a halfway house, in Downers Grove.

The bureau said Crundwell is either on home confinement or living at the halfway house but did not specify which for reasons of privacy and security.

“Ms. Crundwell’s projected release date from custody is October 20, 2029,” the bureau said in an email.

“People are asking if she’s coming back home here, and we don’t have answers, it’s frustrating, and I think the public does deserve the right to know that to some degree,” Arellano told the Sun-Times Thursday. ”If someone’s walking down the aisle in Walmart and sees her, that’s something they should be prepared for.”

Last spring Crundwell asked for early release based on her “deteriorating health condition” and the COVID-19 pandemic, but officials from Dixon opposed the release and Crundwell ultimately withdrew her request.

The statement didn’t explain why Crundwell was transferred now. And calls to a BOP spokesman were not immediately returned.

Jason Wojdylo — a recently retired U.S. Marshal who spent four years seizing, managing and selling off Crundwell’s ill-gained assets, including over 400 horses — told the Chicago Sun-Times he learned through sources that Crundwell was granted a compassionate release.

The agency has faced pressure to increase compassionate releases during the pandemic after a nonprofit news organization shined a light on the issue.

“I worked hard to never take my cases personal. It was always business. My disappointment is that I think it sends the wrong message,” Wojdylo said.

Wojdylo said he expects Crundwell will serve the rest of her sentence in home confinement rather than a halfway house, where a communal setting would present safety challenges.

Crundwell, before withdrawing her request for compassionate release last year in the face of public backlash, suggested she could live with her brother on his farm in Dixon.

“Going back to the scene of the crime, it’s not going to be a welcoming experience for her. And she may live like a hermit, but it’s definitely not as though she’d be living in a prison in Pekin,” Wojdylo said.

Crundwell, in her request for early release, said she’d do all she can to pay restitution.

“I have had several offers for books and movies. My reply has always been I would not speak to anyone until I was released and any remuneration would go first to the city of Dixon,” Crundwell said in the letter.

One person who will be seeking an interview is Kelly Richmond Pope, the DePaul University accounting professor who chronicled Crundwell’s downfall in the documentary “All the Queen’s Horses.”

Pope said she was in a “state of shock” after hearing of Crundwell’s release through a series of texts sent to her from Dixon residents who she’d befriended while making the documentary.

“People in Dixon are angry. ... There’s a sense that justice hasn’t truly been served,” she said.

“Dixon was ultimately able to recover the lion’s share of the stolen money, but it still doesn’t make up for the betrayal,” she said.