DIXON, Ill. — The mayor showed up early for Rita Crundwell’s arraignment, thinking the Lee County courtroom would be packed.
Instead, only seven people attended the former comptroller’s Wednesday hearing, including Mayor Jim Burke. The eight other spectators were members of the media.
Though she entered a plea of not guilty, the answer could not be heard from the gallery.
Crundwell, 59, is accused of stealing $53 million from the city of Dixon over a 20-year period. Prosecutors say she used the money to live lavishly and to support a horse-breeding operation, which was run primarily from an upscale ranch outside of town.
Her 401 horses, stabled in more than a dozen states, have been sold at auction by the U.S. Marshals Service.
Crundwell entered the fourth-floor courtroom Wednesday with her head bent down. The hearing lasted about five minutes, and she waived the reading of the 60 charges that have been filed against her in Lee County.
Each count is a Class X felony, which carry possible sentences of six to 30 years each. The amounts specified in each count range from $100,000 to $350,000, for a total of more than $11 million, which officials said disappeared over a period of two years and four months.
The state charges are in addition to a federal charge of wire fraud, which is pending. She has pleaded not guilty to the federal charge and is free on bond.
A pretrial conference is scheduled for Dec. 19.
“I got here early, because I thought it’d be standing room only,” Burke said after the arraignment.
He said it is possible many Dixon taxpayers declined to attend because they plan to rely instead on media accounts of the hearing. He added, “People in Dixon who really care … are looking forward, not back.”
Asked how the city is recovering from the financial losses, Burke said, “Now that we’ve got the outflow stopped, we’re doing much better.”
Crundwell’s ranch on Red Brick Road, just a few miles outside of town, appeared barren Wednesday, compared to the flutter of activity of recent months as the U.S. Marshals Service prepared her horse herd for auction.
At her home about a mile from the ranch, a next-door neighbor’s yard contains a campaign sign for County Attorney Henry S. Dixon — the man prosecuting her.
After her arraignment, Crundwell was led out a rear door of the courtroom.