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Bookkeeper's theft of nearly $54 million finds its way into college accounting coursework

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DIXON, Illinois — It was one of the worst abuses of public trust in Illinois' corruption-rich history, and now a former bookkeeper's theft of nearly $54 million from the city of Dixon is the subject of several college courses.

The theft and the trial that sent Rita Crundwell to prison are being taught in accounting and forensic accounting classes at DePaul and Northern Illinois universities as well as at several colleges outside Illinois, The (Dixon) Telegraph reported (http://bit.ly/1yDIBl5 ).

Crundwell, who was arrested in 2012 and later pleaded guilty, is serving 20 years in federal prison for stealing from the city over two decades while she was comptroller. She used the money to support a lavish lifestyle and a nationally renowned horse-breeding operation.

The theft went unnoticed for years, partly because Crundwell had sole control of the city's bookkeeping and because she drew up fake invoices for public works projects like roadwork and other expenditures.

The scheme unraveled only when a colleague who filled in for Crundwell when she went on an extended vacation stumbled upon a secret bank account, prompting the mayor to call the FBI.

The city sued the bank and an auditor who failed to catch on to the scheme and is recouping about $40 million from them in a legal settlement.

"Students are fascinated by ... how obvious some of the red flags were," said NIU professor Chih-Chen Lee, who teaches classes on forensic accounting and fraud.

The local auditors drove down the same roads that Crundwell falsely said were involved in roadwork, Lee said.

She called Crundwell's theft a "classic, textbook case" because she started small and carried it out for years.

Kelly Richmond Pope, an associate professor at DePaul who focuses on white-collar crimes and embezzlement, created some of the course material on the Crundwell case that's being used at the schools. She has also been making a documentary film.

Besides DePual and NIU, the materials are being used in classes at Wake Forest University and the University of Washington, Pope said.


Information from: Dixon Telegraph, http://www.saukvalley.com

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