The Largest Municipal Fraud in American History


Rita Crundwell, in her private life, was the owner and operator of RC Quarter Horses. Her horses won 52 world championships and was named the leading owner by the American Quarter Horse Association for eight years in a row. Here home base was a massive estate in Dixon, Illinois but beyond that Crundwell had horses in facilities and with trainers across the country. The maintenance of this operation cost millions of dollars. But how did she pay for it?

In her public life Crundwell acted as the city comptroller for the city of Dixon. She had begun working for the city while still in high school as a work-study student. In 1983 she was appointed as the treasurer/comptroller for the city and worked in that job for almost thirty years. For her services to the city Crundwell earned an $80,000 a year salary. But that still does not answer the question, at least not completely.

Many in the city believed that the horse business sustained itself. Others theorized that she had inherited the money. However, neither of these were true. The reality was that in 1990 Crundwell began systematically syphoning money away from the town into a secret bank account of which she was the only signatory. Over the course of twenty-two years Crundwell stole $53 million, averaging about $5 million a year, the largest municipal fraud in American History. All in the midst of a time of intense economic strain for the city.

On November 14, 2012 Crundwell pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud. For her crimes she was forced to forfeit more than $53.7 million in cash, assets, and possessions. On February 14, 2013 Crundwell was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison and currently resides in the Federal Correctional Institution at Waseca, Minnesota.


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Technical Specifications 

I took all of the photos with my iPhone. For the magazine pages I mostly went for a pretty standard shot, taken squarely from above. I did take some that were more nuanced, there was a small candid in the Chronicle of Crundwell and I photographed it at indirect angle to emphasize her picture, I also took a photo of the Equine Chronicle at an angle to demonstrate the thickness of the magazine.

All files are JPEG files.

Size: 2.1 MB, 1.5 MB, 1.6 MB, 1.8 MB, 1.9 MB (Respectively)

Dimensions: 3264 x 2448 (All the Same)

DPI: 232.32 in2

Historical Description 

The images I have are from the October 2011 All American Quarter Horse Congress Issue of the Equine Chronicle. The Equine Chronicle is a monthly publication for exhibitors and trainers in the Quarter Horse industry to advertise their achievements in order to promote both themselves and their business.  It was while away at the 2011 Quarter Horse Congress on extended vacation that it was discovered that Crundwell had stolen this money. In more cynical terms it is a political tool, a way for judges and other influential people in the industry to know what she and her horses have already achieved and will be able to recognize her when she shows. These pictures are of her advertisements in the Chronicle promoting her farm and her horses, to maintain her image and visibility within the industry. These full page ads cost thousands of dollars each on their own, that is not to say what they cost to design or have photographed.

I also included an image from the American Quarter Horse Journal documenting the sale of her assets. The American Quarter Horse Journal is a magazine put out by the American Quarter Horse Association and is designed to educate and inform their members on a variety of subjects related to the American Quarter horse. In addition to the real-estate her entire herd of horses was auctioned off along with thousands of pieces of tack and equipment. A separate sale was also held to disperse her massive trophy collection, won by her horses paid for with stolen money.

Pedagogical Implications 

I think this story would be meaningful in an economics or civics class. It could also be related as a modern example of political corruption that could be related to events of late 1800s, events such as the Teapot Dome scandal and others. It becomes especially meaningful in terms of the Great Recession of the late 2000’s. As the financial crisis got worse the city employees of Dixon when without raises or bonuses for a number of years. The city police department when without new equipment and was forced to make severe cutbacks. The greatest hit to the town was in terms of road construction, a number of street repair workers were laid off for lack of funds and miles of road were left in disrepair.

If you are more interested in this there is a documentary called All the Queen’s Horses. Here is a link to a trailer/preview for the film:

Written by hcherber

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