He may not have coined the phrase, but I’ve always been rather enamored of this Dylan song spun thought, “Steal a little and they throw you in jail, Steal a lot and they make you king.”
Even though it doesn’t quite fit today’s subject, the consideration behind it certainly does. Dixon, Illinois will actually recover most of the money former Comptroller Rita Crundwell made off with because she took so much!
Despite whatever restitution the courts might order, most municipalities never see a dollar of that of that lost lucre.
But not Dixon! They got $30 million from a settlement with their auditors who missed the equivalent of an elephant in a phone booth, $9.2 million from auctioning off Crundwell’s ill-gotten gain, and a final $4 million from an early bond buyback.
And that $43.2 million windfall comes out to exactly 80 percent of the $54 million Crundwell originally embezzled. (I’m not sure why the Tribune reported it as 70 cents on the dollar).
“We got lucky,” Dixon Mayor Jim Burke said, “It’s almost like this whole thing worked out to be a giant savings account for us. But we sure as hell don’t want this happening again.”
So I guess rather strange moral here is, if you’re not going to pay attention, then turn not paying attention into a real art because then you just might get your stuff back.
To wit, Crundwell stole so much, the asleep at the switch auditors didn’t even bother to darken that courtroom doorway. If it was five or six million they might’ve made an argument, but $54 million? That’s a little hard to explain.
So that $40 million settlement was easy ($10 million went to the attorneys).
Then, Crundwell’s “purchases” were kinda obvious. Had she socked the cash away in a Cayman Island account, it might never have been heard from again. Instead, she went a wee bit overboard by buying a 90 acre ranch, 400 horses, multiple luxury homes, an RV that would’ve made Willie Nelson jealous, and a plethora of other ostentatious purchases.
So it didn’t take Illinois CSI very long to find the stuff and, given the general liquidity of those assets, their sale quickly added up to the $9.2 million previously discussed.
Don’t get me wrong, Dixon is still out about $10 million which ain’t chump change to a city of 15,000, but it could’ve been (and should’ve been) so much worse. It almost makes me believe that if you go so far enough down on the incompetence scale, it somehow rolls back around to a form of competence.
Again, steal a little and they throw you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king! Perhaps it really is better to be lucky than smart.
And finally, in a irony everyone else missed, can it possibly be a coincidence that the very President who turned huge deficits into an art form also hailed from Dixon? Maybe it’s something in the water!