A movie review may seem like a strange thing to have on our blog, but this movie is a good one. It’s about preventing fraud. The movie is is All The Queen’s Horses, the story of what is believed to be the largest municipal fraud in the United States. Rita Crundwell served as the treasurer of the town of Dixon, Illinois for almost thirty years, during which she stole $54 million dollars.
When she wasn’t stealing money from her fellow citizens, Crundwell raised and showed horses. Her horses were champions, and she had the bling to prove it. The people of Dixon thought that Crundwell’s money came from the horse business. But showing horses isn’t a business, it is a very expensive hobby. The people on the competitive show horse circuit figured that Crundwell had inherited money.
No one could imagine that Rita Crundwell stole the money from Dixon’s taxpayers.
At one point, one of Crundwell’s co-workers tells us, “Rita was a nice person. She had to be.” The fraud worked as long as it did because Rita was friendly and cooperative, while the people providing oversight didn’t understand finance well enough to raise questions.
The movie’s director is Kelly Richmond Pope, a forensic accounting expert and professor at DePaul University. Although you might think that a movie directed by an accountant would be really dull, this one is not. Until the Crundwell fraud broke, Dixon was best known for being the birthplace of Ronald Reagan. The contrast of Dixon’s charm, the glitz of the horse business, and the sheer magnitude of the fraud is stark. Preventing fraud takes more than living in a cute small town.
Throughout the movie, the people involved (except for Crundwell) tell their stories, while Pope explains the accounting policies involved. She sets out how Crundwell conducted her fraud and how it could have been prevented, or at least discovered at a much earlier stage. Preventing fraud isn’t always possible, but reducing it would limit the damage.
People sometimes resent accounting policies and spending controls because the vast majority of people are honest. The problem is that the very few who are not honest cause a disproportionate amount of damage. At Bento for Business, we believe that controls are important, but we don’t think they have to be onerous. We work hard to make our payments systems easy to use for many reasons, not only preventing fraud.
And some of us love accounting enough that during our free time, we watch movies about accounting fraud. Check it out; you might not come to love accounting by the time the end credits roll, but you will have a renewed appreciation for the damage that one very nice but very crooked person can do.