Ex-official pleads not guilty to theft

ROCKFORD, Ill. - The former comptroller of a small northern Illinois city pleaded not guilty Monday to charges alleging she stole more than $53 million of the public's money to fund a lavish lifestyle and create one of the nation's foremost horse-breeding operations.

Rita Crundwell, 58, and her attorney, Paul Gaziano, refused to comment after leaving the federal courthouse in Rockford, where she pleaded not guilty to a single count of wire fraud. Crundwell, who is free on a recognizance bond, could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors allege that since 1990, Crundwell stole more than $53 million from the City of Dixon, where she oversaw finances as comptroller since the 1980s, by diverting it to an account she set up for personal use and misleading city officials. - AP

Education chief breaks ranks

WASHINGTON - President Obama's vague stance on same-sex marriage is facing fresh scrutiny. A prominent cabinet official has broken ranks with the White House, stating his unequivocal support for same-sex marriage.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan's comments came one day after Vice President Biden suggested he supported gay marriage, too.

Obama aides insisted the statements were not part of a coordinated effort to lay groundwork for a shift in the president's position. Obama has stopped short of backing gay marriage, saying his views are "evolving." - AP

Ex-officer given 75-year sentence

NEW YORK - A former police officer who grabbed a schoolteacher off the street and sexually attacked her was sentenced Monday to at least 75 years in prison after being convicted of high-level sex charges, though a jury couldn't decide whether he was guilty of rape.

After staying silent during his trial, Michael Pena apologized to the victim and said he deserved to be punished, though his lawyer later said Pena was shocked at getting the maximum: 75 years to life.

Capping a trial that portrayed a hideous, sudden assault by an off-duty officer, the judge excoriated Pena as an embarrassment to police, while the woman said the attack - on her way to her first day of work at a new job - had destroyed her life. - AP

Judges, envoy get 'Courage' awards

BOSTON - John F. Kennedy's only surviving child marked what would have been the late president's 95th birthday this month by honoring three Iowa judges who were ousted after the court they sat on unanimously decided to legalize same-sex marriages.

Caroline Kennedy on Monday also recognized Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, who risked his life to support opponents of President Basher al-Assad's regime.

Kennedy, who heads the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, presented the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award to former Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit, all of whom were pushed off the bench in a 2010 retention vote. Monday's ceremony was at the JFK Library & Museum. - AP