All the Queen’s Horses, not-rated
All the Queen’s Horses is a well-made documentary about the largest municipal fraud ever committed in the U.S. It is also a warning to businesses, non-profits and churches that the same could happen to them, and it probably already is, just on a smaller scale. A statistic they posted was that 50-70% of business failure is due to fraud. This is the first film directed by Kelly Richmond Pope. Pope is an associate professor in the School of Accountancy and MIS at DePaul University.
Dixon, Illinois is less than two hours west of Chicago. It is the hometown of President Ronald Reagan, and has a population of just over 16,000. In the film, Dixon appears to be a very pleasant small town. In 2011, Dixon City Clerk Kathe Swanson noticed some suspicious and very large dollar amount entries on some bank statements. Swanson had reported to Rita Crundwell, the town’s Treasurer and Comptroller, for twenty years. Swanson reported her concerns to Mayor Jim Burke, who in turn notified the FBI. The investigation took a full six months before Crundwell was arrested and charged with embezzling a staggering $53.7 million over a period of 20 years.
Over the years Crundwell had established a reputation as one of the world’s leading breeders of quarter horses. She used that business to launder significant amounts of money. At the same time, Crundwell laid off city employees and cut essential city services all the while funding her lifestyle. As she built a lavish lifestyle, the city suffered and went into significant debt.
Pope uses interviews with townspeople, those who worked with Crundwell, members of the FBI, etc., to tell the story. We might wonder how this fraud could have taken place in such a small community. Pope uses simple, at times humorous, and easy to understand graphics to explain how Crundwell, who was trusted in the community, could get away with this over 20 years without being caught.
The film addresses who should have been responsible for detecting the fraud in Dixon. Should it have been the mayor, the city council, the people of Dixon, the city’s auditors, the bank the city used, etc.?
As the film shows, the city had little or no financial controls. Virtually everything pertaining to the city’s finances was controlled by Crundwell. My wife is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), just as Kelly Richmond Pope is. She has handled the finances for our church, a local business and a non-profit. For years I have heard her stress the importance of good financial internal controls. The result of a lack of financial controls in the city of Dixon is sadly demonstrated in this film.
The city of Dixon filed a suit against their auditors and bank, winning a total of $40 million, in addition to selling Crundwell’s property. Of that amount however, a significant amount of the award went to the attorneys and for debt payment. The remaining amount went to the city’s infrastructure. We are told that the city’s new finance director has implemented good financial controls.
The film stresses that this type of greed and fraud is prevalent in organizations. It is a warning to all that good accountability and oversight need to be in place. As Ronald Reagan said, “trust but verify”.
Rita Crundwell declined to be interviewed for the film. She was found guilty and sentenced to 19 years and 7 months, and will be released in 2030, at which time she will be 82 years old.