Rita Crundwell Update: Financial officer, who allegedly stole millions of dollars from Illinois city, pleads guilty

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. On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, FBI agents arrested Crundwell, the Dixon comptroller, on charges that she stole more than $3.2 million in public funds from the city of Dixon in just a matter of months. She also was accused of misappropriating more than $30 million since 2006 to finance a lavish lifestyle, including operating a horse farm.
Rita Crundwell at the American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show in Oklahoma City, Okla., Nov. 2011. (Credit: AP Photo/American Quarter Horse Journal)
Rita Crundwell at the American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show in Oklahoma City, Okla., Nov. 2011.
AP/American Quarter Horse Journal

(CBS/AP) ROCKFORD, Ill. - Rita Crundwell, the former financial officer for the Illinois city of Dixon, has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $53 million from the community whose finances she oversaw for decades.

PICTURES: Official stole millions to buy horses, say Ill. cops

Crundwell pleaded guilty to wire fraud in federal court in Rockford. Prosecutors have said she stole public money while overseeing the city's finances and siphoned it into a secret bank account.

The guilty plea in the federal case enables the U.S. Marshals Service to start selling off millions of dollars of assets still in Crundwell's name, including about $450,000 worth of diamonds and other jewels, ranch land and a house in Florida, he said.

Crundwell, 58, had previously pleaded not guilty to the wire fraud count, which carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Crundwell had worked for the city about 100 miles west of Chicago since she was 17 and started to oversee public finances in the 1980s. Prosecutors say she began stealing money in 1990 to support an extravagant way of life, including nationally known horse-breeding operation.

Authorities say Crundwell bought luxury homes and vehicles and spent millions on RC Quarter Horses LLC, which produced 52 world champions in exhibitions run by the American Quarter Horse Association.The marshals already have auctioned dozens of Crundwell's horses.

Her scheme came to light when a co-worker filling in during Crundwell's vaction stumbled upon her secret bank account, prosecutors said.

Crundwell has pleaded not guilty to 60 separate but related felony theft counts in Lee County.

Residents in Dixon, the boyhood home of the late President Ronald Reagan, welcomed Crundwell's plea. Its 16,000 residents are largely lower-middle class, working at factories and grain farms, and they had come to trust Crundwell to manage the town's finances with little oversight.

Complete coverage of Rita Crundwell on Crimesider