CHICAGO (MCT) — The U.S. Marshals Service will oversee care of Rita Crundwell’s champion halter horses as the former Dixon, Ill., comptroller answers to charges she pilfered $53 million from the city’s coffers.
U.S. District Judge Philip Reinhard granted the order Thursday in a brief hearing at the federal courthouse in Rockford.
Crundwell is accused of stealing from the small northwest town for nearly 22 years while she served as both its comptroller and treasurer. She has been charged with one count of wire fraud.
Prosecutors allege she used the city’s money to fund her horse breeding business and are moving to force her to forfeit bank accounts, her farm in Dixon, three residences, a luxury motor home and more than 300 horses.
The horses have been in the care of her employees since her April 17 arrest. Most of them reside at two of Crundwell’s properties in Dixon, but others are scattered around the country.
After prosecutors formally indicted Crundwell on Tuesday, Reinhard granted a restraining order giving the U.S. Marshals Service responsibility to oversee the horses’ care until Thursday’s hearing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Pedersen told Reinhard he wants to preserve the value of the horses with an eye toward eventually putting them up for auction.
“If they are not properly cared for and trained, their value will quickly diminish,” he said.
Crundwell’s attorney, Paul Gaziano, did not object to extending U.S. Marshals Service’ oversight, and Reinhard did just that.
Marshals have said they will hire professionals to feed and care for the horses. They also will inventory the horses, assess their value and submit a request to sell them.
Since Crundwell was released from custody she has been helping inventory the horses, Pedersen told the judge, but she has not directly been taking part in their care. Reinhard did not preclude her from doing so.
“She has a lot of knowledge that (might) be helpful,” he said.
Crundwell, wearing a gold trench coat with her blonde hair pulled back, declined comment before the hearing and did not speak during the proceedings. Afterward, she slipped out a back door. The U.S. Marshals Service would not say why they allowed her to do so.
Crundwell is due back in court on Monday to be arraigned on the single count of wire fraud.