Headlines can turn more than a few news heads

Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

Jay Leno, the former host of the “Tonight Show” on NBC, took special comedic joy in poking fun at newspapers around the nation, periodically featuring various publishing gaffes that unwittingly made their way onto printed pages.

Such blunders left Leno to wonder why we’ve never seen a headline like this:

• Psychic Wins Lottery

It may very well be a question for the ages, especially in light of the recent Powerball drawing that promised an $824 million payday – before taxes.

Of course, keen newspaper readers also probably are puzzled how highly skilled journalists could write such bone-headed headlines as these:

• Teacher strikes idle kids

• North Korean head seeks arms

• Prostitutes appeal to Pope

• Drunks get 9 months in violin case

• Local high school dropouts cut in half

• Dr. Ruth to talk about sex with newspaper editors

The last ranks among the all-time botched headlines, considering how close to home it hits those in the editorial ranks.

So did a recent story about a newspaper in Oregon that had to lay off its entire 10-person staff after it was the victim of an embezzlement scheme concocted by a former employee of the free weekly in Eugene, the home of the University of Oregon.

The Eugene Weekly, the city’s alternative paper that has a circulation of 30,000, was forced to shut down after upward of $200,000 in newspaper funds had gone mysteriously missing, leaving officials without the means to pay a $90,000 printing bill and assorted other overdue obligations.

The sad nature of the story reminded me of several other embezzlement schemes that I covered during my early newspaper days, one involving the treasurer of the local chamber of commerce and the other the keeper of the funds for a youth soccer association.

In each case, one of which reached the six-figure realm, the victim organization was victimized by lax accounting procedures, the kind that allows one signatory on checks and little in the way of financial oversight. That, as they say in the world of forensic accounting, is akin to inviting a fox into a hen house – a disaster just waiting to happen.

Those embezzlement capers, however, were small potatoes when compared to the so-called “granddaddy of them all,” the $54 million pilfer pulled off by the comptroller of Dixon, Ill., the boyhood home of former President Ronald Reagan.

The grand theft was laid bare in the 2017 documentary “All the Queen’s Horses,” which detailed how Rita Crundwell stole the ungodly amount of public funds over a 20-year period, marking the largest case of municipal fraud in American history.

Crundwell reportedly stole an average of $220,000 a month from a town with an annual budget of $6 million, eluding detection for nearly two decades before an unsuspecting colleague randomly opened a bank envelope and discovered that “something was rotten” in Dixon.

Crundwell used the stolen funds to finance a lavish lifestyle that included jewels, furs, homes, horses, and a $2 million RV. Most of the ill-gotten money was used by Crundwell to build one of the nation’s largest quarter horse breeding empires.

She was arrested by the FBI in 2012 and was sentenced to a nearly 20-year prison term in 2013.

Her stay in federal prison lasted just 8 years before she was released from custody in 2021 in a move that has yet to be fully explained.

Her plight, however disturbing it may be to those who believe in the sanctity of the public service profession, generated more than its share of headlines as her embezzlement scheme unraveled, including one destined to be published.

• City taken for a 54-million-dollar wild ride

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