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Article updated: 4/12/2013 8:41 AM

Suburban lawmaker's plan could deter sticky-fingered officials

David Harris

David Harris

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By Doug T. Graham

SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois officials considering pilfering public funds, take note: A suburban lawmaker's proposal to increase the punishment for those who "embezzle, steal or purloin" public money was approved by the Illinois House Thursday.

State Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, said his plan would mean people who take more than $100,000 in public money wouldn't be eligible for parole when sentenced to prison.

"Those folks who steal from the public need to know they are going to face steep public penalties," Harris said.

In the highest-profile recent case, former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell was convicted on federal charges of stealing more than $53 million of city funds over a 22-year period. Crundwell pleaded not guilty, lost her case and was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison.

Harris said if his proposal had been law, her punishment might have been steeper.

Republican state Rep. Tom Demmer said on the House floor he lived his whole life in Dixon and could attest to the damage Crundwell caused.

Harris' plan now moves to the Illinois Senate for further debate. He says the idea came from a government reform commission set up by Gov. Pat Quinn after the scandal involving former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

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