An Illinois woman well known in the local quarter horse circuit faces charges that she supported her championship program with embezzled money.
Rita Crundwell, who won the last eight top titles at the American Quarter Horse Association's annual championship in Oklahoma City, has pleaded not guilty to misappropriating more than $53 million from the city of Dixon, Ill., where she worked as comptroller.
Eighty high-value quarter horses were sold at an online auction earlier this week, fetching more than $1.6 million. A live auction Sept. 23-24 at Crundwell's ranch in Dixon will help the U.S. Marshals Service to liquidate the remaining of Crundwell's 300-plus horses.
Crundwell was arrested by FBI agents in April, accused of siphoning public funds into a secret bank account opened in 1990 to help support her lavish lifestyle, including her successful horse breeding operation.
Federal prosecutors contend she spent the funds on jewelry and cars, including a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Roadster, and on horses.
Crundwell won 69 world championships as an owner and 47 as an exhibitor. She also won the Oklahoma City Leading Owner Award — presented to the owner who earns the most points overall at the annual championship show — for the last eight years straight, according to American Quarter Horse Association results.
“Rita was well known because she had been successful for an extended amount of time,” said Jim Bret Campbell, the Quarter Horse Association's senior director of marketing and public relations.
“It is a very viable way of life and it's a way of life many people enjoy, but just because you have one individual who falls outside of that doesn't meant that the whole industry is painted with the same brush.”
Quarter horses are prized for being able to run short straightaways faster than any other. In the halter class, in which Crundwell enjoyed her success, prizes are awarded based on breed ideals and the look and structure of the animal.