SNOW HILL – The former Worcester County resident accused of embezzling well over $100,000 from his now ex-wife before changing his name and starting a new life across the country was extradited this week and appeared yesterday in District Court in Snow Hill for a bond hearing, during which his initial $500,000 bond was reduced to $100,000.
Former Ocean Pines resident Richard Brueckner, also known as Richard Thelander, in the late 1990s allegedly forged his now ex-wife’s signature several times to illegally obtain credit cards and clear out personal accounts in a theft scheme totaling nearly $120,000, which does not include another $92,000 Brueckner-Thelander owes his ex-wife, a long-time Ocean City Elementary School teacher, in back alimony.
Brueckner-Thelander, as he prefers to be called now, was arrested in early August at his new home in Cornville, Ariz. and served with a 24-count warrant sworn out on him six years ago for theft, forgery, credit card fraud and theft scheme. He was extradited to Worcester County this week and made his first appearance in a courtroom here yesterday when he was brought in for a bond review.
Brueckner-Thelander’s initial bond upon arrival in Worcester County was set at $500,000, but his attorney, Jay Harrison Phillips, was able to convince District Court Judge Gerald Purnell to reduce bail to $100,000, 10 percent of which, or $10,000, would secure his release from jail. Phillips said after the bond review he was going to attempt to make arrangements to bond out his client.
Brueckner-Thelander allegedly carried out his extensive theft scheme against his wife, as well as other financial institutions, 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.
In Arizona, Brueckner-Thelander moved quickly up the ranks 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.
At the outset of the bond review yesterday, Phillips portrayed his client as a man who started a new life in Arizona and had put his life in Maryland behind him. He told the judge Brueckner-Thelander is now 65 and was raised in Baltimore County. Brueckner-Thelander went to Parkville High School and the University of Maryland and earned some post-graduate credits at Northern Arizona University in order to gain his teaching certificate.
Phillips said Brueckner-Thelander had to go through an FBI security check in order to receive his teaching certificate, which he passed not once, but twice, when he recently renewed his six-year certificate. When he was arrested in early August and served with the six-year-old warrant from Worcester County, he resigned from his teaching position with the Sedona-Oak Creek school board.
“He had a teaching job out there, but he resigned in order to keep any embarrassment away from the Arizona school board,” Phillips told Purnell yesterday.
Brueckner-Thelander remarried somewhere along the way after leaving Worcester County, which was the reason for his name change to Richard Thelander, according to Phillips. The charging documents from Worcester still refer to him as Brueckner, but everything related to his new life in Arizona refers to him as Thelander. The only known official document referring to him as Brueckner-Thelander is his application for Panamanian citizenship, which was approved in March.
“The only reason he is using her name is because she just completed a divorce and did not want to change her name,” Phillips told the judge. “She has three grown children and she asked him to take her name, to which he agreed.”
At that point, the defendant whispered to Phillips he wanted to be referred to as Brueckner-Thelander.
Phillips told the judge his client had a new wife and a new life in Arizona and that he had no idea there was a six-year-old warrant for his arrest in Worcester County. Phillips said Brueckner-Thelander left Maryland in 1998 and that this was his first time back.
“He had no idea there were any warrants out here for him or else he would have come back,” he said. “When he was served with the Maryland papers, he voluntarily agreed to come back.”
Phillips told the judge his client was a U.S. Army veteran who was honorably discharged. He also said Brueckner-Thelander has no other charges against him and no criminal record. He said later this was the first time his client had ever been in trouble in his life, which was why he asked for the bond to be reduced.
“Under the circumstances, I think a $500,000 bond would be very high,” he said. “I don’t think he is a flight risk.”
Purnell said he was predisposed to lower the bond and even hinted he was going to before Phillips made his presentation. However, the judge seemed not so sure about Phillips’ assertion Brueckner-Thelander was not a risk to flee.
“I wouldn’t know,” he said. “Everything here points to a life in Arizona.”
Nonetheless, the judge agreed to reduce the bond to $100,000. A preliminary hearingy has been set for Oct. 12.