SNOW HILL – A former local resident who absconded with over $100,000 in embezzled funds from his now ex-wife before heading out west and assuming a new name and new life last week entered a plea agreement in the case which will force him to pay $75,000 in restitution to the victim.
Former Ocean Pines resident Richard Brueckner, now Richard Thelander, 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 in her name, which he maxed out. The sum total of the ill-gotten gains Brueckner-Thelander obtained through his theft scheme totaled nearly $120,000 and does not include another $92,000 in back alimony he owes to his ex-wife, a long-time Ocean City Elementary teacher, dating back eight years.
Brueckner-Thelander carried out his extensive theft scheme against his wife and various financial entities over a two-year period from 1996 to 1998. He then left the area and made his way out west where he assumed a new name as Richard Thelander and started a new life, which included a rapid ascent to a lofty position in the Arizona school system.
While he moved on with his new life, details about his extensive theft scheme back in Worcester County began to emerge and a 24-count warrant was sworn out for his arrest on charges ranging from theft and forgery to credit card fraud and theft scheme dating back to 2001. In August, after a years-long investigation by Peninsula Professional Services, a local private investigation firm, Brueckner-Thelander was arrested in his new home in Cornville, Ariz. and he was extradited to Worcester County in September to face the six-year-old charges.
Last Friday in District Court, Brueckner-Thelander entered into a pre-arranged plea bargain that will place him on probation for a period of three years and force him to pay $75,000 in restitution to his victim. Brueckner-Thelander entered an Alford plea to count 20, which was one of the forgery charges, and the other 23 counts against him were not prosecuted. In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt, but acknowledges the state has sufficient evidence to prosecute the case.
In the count for which he entered an Alford plea, Brueckner-Thelander in January 1997 opened a post office box in Salisbury and sent a letter to Bear Stearns and Company, a securities broker, telling the company to forward all correspondence on the account to the new post office box. He then forged his wife’s signature and cleared out the account totaling an estimated $75,000.
“He produced two signatures, his and Mrs. Brueckner’s, and cleared out the Bear Stearns account,” said Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Farlow, who prosecuted the case. “Thus began a three-year course of conduct after 30 years of marriage.”
District Court Judge Gerald Purnell then ordered Brueckner-Thelander to pay $75,000 in restitution to his ex-wife and placed him on probation for a period of three years, which will end if and when he makes good on his restitution.
“If the restitution is paid before the three years is up, the probation will be terminated,” said Purnell. “I’m going to make this supervised probation for the purpose of making sure he pays this money back.”
Last Friday’s plea bargain brings a measure of closure to the bizarre case that began a decade ago. The investigation revealed Brueckner-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 in August when he was arrested outside his home in Arizona.
It remains a mystery how or why Brueckner-Thelander made his way out west and started his life anew with a trail of theft, fraud and embezzlement in his wake, but one thing that is clear is that he leap-frogged across the country before settling 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. In his most recent position, he was the superintendent and CEO of the PACE Preparatory Academy charter schools, a charter school system formed in 2000, but he resigned his position following his arrest in August.
While Brueckner-Thelander is apparently well established in Arizona, new developments in the months leading up to his arrest in early August seem to 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.