DIXON, Ill. (CBS) -- Former Dixon city comptroller Rita Crundwell was released from prison Wednesday, years ahead of schedule.
On Fe. 14, 2013, Crundwell was sentenced to 19 years and seven months in federal prison for embezzling more than $53 million from the City of Dixon going back to 1990. She pleaded guilty to charges in the case in November 2012.
The city confirmed that she was released Wednesday from the Federal Corrections Institution in Pekin. She had been due to serve 85 percent of her sentence and be released on Oct. 20, 2029.
But over the past week, there have been rumors about the possibility of her release, and Dixon City Manager Danny Langloss was told by the prison that indeed Crundwell was released Wednesday. The prison official did not know why, officials said.
According to her plea deal, in December 1990, Crundwell opened a bank account for the city of Dixon, which she alone controlled. Over the next 22 years, she used her position as city comptroller to transfer funds from a city money market account into other city bank accounts, and then into the account she controlled.
Crundwell, 59, admitted using those funds for personal business expenses; including her horse breeding business, personal credit cards, and several real estate properties -- including homes in Dixon and Florida.
She also created fake invoices from the state of Illinois to show auditors the funds she was using were being spent on legitimate city expenses. She also told city officials that budget shortfalls were the result of the state being late in payment of tax revenues to the city.
Then-Dixon Mayor Jim Burke, who has since passed away, reported Crundwell to federal authorities in the fall of 2011 after another city employee took over Crundwell's duties while she was on extended vacation - and found records of the bank account Crundwell had been using to fund her lavish lifestyle.
The U.S. Marshals Service recovered about $7.4 million from auctions of Crundwell's horses and equipment from her ranch. Her furniture, jewelry, and other personal property was auctioned off.
On April 22 of last year, Crundwell petitioned a federal judge for early release due to her "deteriorating health condition" and the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Langloss issued a letter to the Pekin prison warden strongly opposing the release, and Crundwell later withdrew her request.
Officials said Dixon Mayor Llandro Arellano expressed frustration that the City of Dixon was not officially told Crundwell was being released.
"It is incredibly frustrating that Dixon was given no victim notification of Rita Crundwell's release," Arellano said in a news 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."
for more features.