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DIXON, Ill. — The Dixon community reacted Thursday to the early release of a former comptroller who embezzled $54 million.

While Dixon was able to recoup some of the stolen money, Rita Crundwell’s early release has opened old wounds for many residents. At Books on First in downtown Dixon, friends for more than 70 years had a lot to say about Crundwell.

“I was very surprised,” John McLane said. “I heard no reason why she was released early.”

“I can tell you why she was released,” Charles Hage said. “Because it fits the liberal agenda. They want to let most people out, anyway. So that just gave an excuse to let another one out. That’s my opinion.”

But not everyone agrees Crundwell should still be in prison.

“No, because it’s only money,” Edward Gasser said.

The former Dixon comptroller admitted to stealing more than $50 million, over decades, to fund a lavish lifestyle, with everything from furs, to properties and fine horses. The single biggest theft of public money in state history stunned the tight-knit Dixon community.

“I was shocked. Of course, I was disappointed because those things happen in Chicago, not in Dixon,” Gasser said.

Last year, WGN Investigates obtained a letter written by Crundwell begging for early release from prison. Crundwell wrote, in part, “with my deteriorating health condition and the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel like I have been given a death sentence.”

Over the objection of Dixon officials, however, the Bureau of Prisons said the 68-year-old was transferred from the Federal Correctional Institute in Pekin to community confinement, either at a home or a halfway house.

Crundwell had eight years left on a more than 19-year sentence. Dixon’s mayor said he was shocked and frustrated.

“She really damaged this town,” Mayor Llandro Arellano Jr. said. “And a strong message was supposed to be sent that this sort of thing is not tolerated. And I think that’s the frustration in the community. By not even serving half the term, you’re completely undermining that message.”

Dixon resident Margaret Tyne agrees.

“When you consider a lot of her actions really put other people’s lives in danger, maybe they shouldn’t have been quite as lenient.”

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“There were many things over the years that Dixon should’ve and could’ve been able to do had she not taken the money, like maintaining the streets and improving the water system in Dixon,” McLane added.

But some residents say they are ready to move on.

“Yes, we’re doing great,” Edie Peterson said. “Could we have a lot done better? Hmmm, let me think. Fifty-three million things we could have done better? Who knows?”

When pressed by WGN for confirmation, the Bureau of Prisons would not confirm any information on why Crundwell was released or her location.