One Twisted Tale Of Deceit Leads From Arizona To Worcester

BERLIN – A former local resident who allegedly absconded with over $200,000 in embezzled funds nearly a decade ago before heading out west and assuming a new name and a new life is on his way back to Worcester County this week to face a 24-count, six-year-old warrant charging him with theft, forgery and illegal credit card use among other offenses.

The bizarre case involves former West Ocean City resident Richard Brueckner, now 65, also known as Richard Thelander, who, in the late 1990s, allegedly forged his estranged wife’s signature several times to clear out personal accounts and illegally obtain at least six credit cards, which he maxed out. The sum total of the ill-gotten gains Brueckner allegedly obtained through his theft scheme totals nearly $120,000, and does not include another $92,000 Brueckner owes his ex-wife, Sheridan Brueckner, a long-time teacher at Ocean City Elementary, in back alimony dating back almost eight years.

Brueckner allegedly carried out his extensive theft scheme against his wife, as well as other financial entities, over a two-year period between 1996 and 1998. He then left the area and made his way out west, where he assumed a new name, Richard Thelander, and started a new life, which included a rapid ascent to a lofty position in the Arizona school system.

An investigation revealed Brueckner, now calling himself Thelander, lived at different times over the last decade in Wyoming and Colorado before settling in Arizona, where he quickly moved up the ranks in the state school system there to reach the position of administrator and chief executive officer of a three-campus charter school called the PACE Preparatory Academy. In between, he apparently taught at several different schools and held positions on various Boards of Directors in Arizona.

With a bunch of cash and a new identity, Brueckner was able to assume an entirely new life in Arizona including taking another wife a few years ago. He was able to successfully elude those who sought him for his past transgressions for about nine years before his luck finally ran out earlier this month. Brueckner was arrested outside his home in Sedona, Ariz. when he returned from a vacation in early August and has been held by authorities there since until the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office began extradition proceedings against him this week.

He is now reportedly being brought back to Worcester County to face the 24-count arrest warrant filed against him in May 2001. He is expected to be returned to Worcester County any day now and will likely face a stiff prosecution for the theft scheme he promulgated here before fleeing out west nearly a decade ago.

Theft Scheme Extensive

The charges against Brueckner are extensive and include about half a dozen cases where he forged his ex-wife’s name to obtain credit cards, which he quickly maxed out to their limits. The amounts ranged from around $5,000 on the low side to as high as $14,000 on another with several different amounts obtained in cash and merchandize on credit cards in between.

Brueckner’s theft scheme wasn’t limited to obtaining credit cards by illegally forging his wife’s signature. He also cleared out several of the couple’s other accounts and holdings, leaving his wife facing bankruptcy and a years-long struggle to clear up the financial mess. The sum total of his theft carried out from April 1996 to August 1998 comes to $119,407.85, which is covered in the warrant’s 24th and final count, theft scheme over $300, which is a felony. It’s interesting to note felony theft in 2001 when the warrant was issued is set at $300. It has since been raised to $500.

Brueckner’s theft scheme is not limited to his activities from 1996 to 1998. In a 2000 divorce proceeding, for which Brueckner obviously failed to appear, a Circuit Court Master ruled his wife, Sheridan Brueckner, was entitled to indefinite alimony in the amount of $1,000 per month effective January 1999. In September 2006, after years of Brueckner failing to make any alimony payments, the court entered a judgment of default against Brueckner in favor of his wife in the amount of $92,000 or the equivalent of seven years and six months of missed alimony payments. The court also ruled at that time Brueckner was responsible for over $2,000 in court costs payable to his wife’s attorneys.

A New Life Out West

It remains a mystery how or why Richard Brueckner, now Thelander, made his way out west and started his life anew with the wake of theft and fraud and embezzlement in his wake, but one thing that is clear is he leap-frogged his way across the country before finally settling in Arizona.

His trail, as evidenced by the string of failed contact attempts and returned mail during the divorce proceedings, placed him at different times in Cheyenne, Wy.; Dillon, Colo.; Cornville, Ariz.; and finally Sedona, Ariz., where he was finally caught earlier this month. It remains uncertain how Brueckner ascended through the ranks in the school system in Arizona, but officials there apparently did not do background checks.

What appears to be certain is that he used a combination of charisma or charm and the skillful hiding of his past to reach new heights in Arizona. He was at times a teacher at Sedona-Red Rock High School and later the director of the Sedona-Oak Creek Joint Unified District. He also served for a time on the Yavapai County Tech Prep Board of Directors.

His most recent position is superintendent and CEO of the PACE Preparatory Academy charter schools, a charter school system formed in 2000 with campuses in Camp Verde, Humbolt and Prescott Valley, Ariz. The school’s website lists Brueckner as the CEO and contract signer. It also lists his new wife, Patricia, as a teacher and administrator.

Brueckner’s new life in Arizona is not limited to his school activities. He has reportedly been buying real estate and speculating on land. A legal advertisement in an Arizona paper from earlier this year listed a new corporation being formed by Brueckner and a partner called S&T Holdings.

Another Big Move?

While Brueckner, now known as Richard Thelander, is apparently well established in Arizona, new developments in the last several months leading up to his arrest in early August suggest he might have felt the noose tightening around him again. In March of this year, his application for citizenship in Panama was approved in that country under the name Richard Brueckner-Thelander and it remains uncertain if he was preparing to move to that country.

Extradition Back to Worcester 

Brueckner was reportedly arrested at his Sedona, Arizona home on Aug. 3, ironically nine years to the day when he left Worcester County in 1998. The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office this week confirmed the process of extraditing Brueckner back to Worcester County to face the warrant issued for his arrest back in 2001. It is uncertain just when he will arrive in Worcester to face the charges.