This Nov. 2011 photo provided on April 18, 2012, by The American Quarter Horse Journal, shows Rita Crundwell, of Dixon, Ill., posing with Pizzazzy Lady at the 2011 American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo)
NBC CHICAGO -- The former comptroller of west suburban Dixon was sentenced to 235 months Thursday for embezzling more than $53 million from the town.
Prosecutors said Rita Crundwell began stealing tax dollars in 1990 by creating phony invoices and transferring the money into another account that she allegedly used for personal expenses such as $2 million for a motor home. The scheme unraveled when a coworker discovered the secret bank account.
"This has been a massive stealing of public funds," the judge said Thursday. The judge revoked Crundwell's bond after determining she could be a flight risk. She was taken into custody after the sentencing.
Crundwell's attorneys had asked for a lenient prison sentence in hopes of getting something between 13 and 16 years.
During sentencing testimony, Dixon Mayor Jim Burke asked for the maximum sentence for "crimes she committed against fellow citizens."
Prosecutor Joe Pederson called the situation a "massive rip-off of public funds," noting Crundwell "callously sat in budget meetings as the city made cuts."
"Rita must pay the price," Pederson said.
FBI agent Patrick Garry testified that a new theft of $25,000 also was discovered. The money was stolen out of Dixon's charitable sister city account from 33 checks Crundwell wrote, Garry said, including one to her personal American Express account.
Dixon Streets official Michael Stichter testified Crundwell rejected his requests for much needed equipment to replace rusted trucks. He said Crundwell blamed "lack of funds" and told him, "If you knew where a money tree was I'd be willing to get you a dump truck."
Through tears, Crundwell said she was "truly sorry to the city of Dixon and my family and friends."
The government has begun liquidating millions of dollars of Crundwell's property by auctioning off cars, boats and other equipment from her horse farm. U.S. marshals sold the ranch, farmland and house for $3 million.
The home sale along with the earlier sale of her belongings has brought in about $11 million. Proceeds went toward helping the town of Dixon.
(By Kim Vatis, Lisa Balde, NBC Chicago)