Five years ago, Mildred “Millie” Crowley was bursting with excitement over the completion of her new horse farm in southwest suburban Bourbonnais.
“The dream is coming true!” Crowley posted on Facebook in August 2015 about the Bit O’Luck farm, which specializes in saddlebreds and hackney show ponies and touts heated barns and indoor and outdoor arenas.
Federal prosecutors, though, say Crowley’s success was an illusion.
Crowley, 72, was charged in federal court in Chicago last week in a decadelong scheme to embezzle funds from a Lemont blasting company where she worked as an office manager in order to finance the farm and her show horses.
In all, Crowley stole more than $2.3 million from 2009 to 2020, according to a seven-page criminal information filed in U.S. District Court on Dec. 29. In addition to funding the horse farm, Crowley is also accused of using ill-gotten gains to pay for restaurant meals, department store purchases and traveling across the country.
People charged in a criminal information, as opposed to a grand jury indictment, typically intend to plead guilty. An initial court date has not yet been scheduled, records show.
Crowley’s lawyer, Jonathan Bedi, had no comment on the charges on Monday. But he said in an emailed statement that Crowley is “a wonderful family woman, who is loved by all who know her and has never been accused of any wrong doing before.”
“Further, she is eager for her side of the story to come to light,” Bedi said.
The charges mark the latest in series of federal investigations involving alleged fraud in the Illinois horse breeding industry.
A decade ago, Rita Crundwell, the disgraced former treasurer of Dixon in northwest Illinois, was convicted of siphoning almost $54 million from the small town’s meager coffers over two decades to finance a championship quarter horse breeding operation, buy real estate and purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars of jewelry. Crundwell was sentenced in 2013 to nearly 20 years in prison.
In 2018, Carol Delgado and Brent Houck, owners of Carent Stables in Naperville, were charged with fraudulently obtaining millions in loans through bogus construction companies and using the windfall to fund their horse breeding business, as well as the purchase and renovation of homes in Illinois and Florida. Both Delgado and Houck have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
The charges against Crowley stem from her job as an office manager for a blasting contractor in southwest suburban Lemont, identified only as Company A.
Beginning in July 2009, Crowley directed a bank where Company A had a business account to issue her a corporate credit card in her name even though the owner of the company had not authorized her to have a spending account, the charges allege.
Over the next 10 years, Crowley made more than $2.3 million in unauthorized charges on the account using the card and company checks, and then falsified the company’s books and records to make it look like the money was being used to pay legitimate vendors, according to the charges.
She also hid the fraud by failing to keep credit card statements detailing her purchases in the company’s files, the charges alleged.
In 2019, after the company reported a net loss of $77,000, Crowley falsely told the owner — identified as Individual A — that the red ink was caused by “higher wages to union workers and purchases of certain equipment,” the charges allege. In fact, Crowley had stolen more than $300,000 from the company during that fiscal year, the information stated.
The charges seek a forfeiture from Crowley in the amount of $2.39 million.
According to the National Horseman online publication, Crowley has owned at least 11 horses through the years, including a stallion named Fly the W — an apparent reference to the popular Chicago Cubs slogan — that has raced at recent events across the Midwest.
Her Facebook profile includes an image from the National Horseman of her astride a brown gelding named He’s Catalyst Delight, wearing leather riding pants and a cowboy hat.
Records show that Crowley purchased the land for the Bit O’Luck farm on North 3000W Road in 2015 for $475,000. Months later, as the farm was nearing completion, she posted a brochure on Facebook touting the property’s lush pastures and vintage farm house.
“Thanks everyone we are still doing work on the house and middle barn,” she wrote. “When I pull into the driveway I can’t believe I have been blessed to call this beautiful property home.”