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Alleged embezzler arraigned

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Saturday, July 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

A former Hempfield woman, who fled the country to avoid charges she bilked more than $217,000 from a Youngwood medical practice, was back in Westmoreland County on Friday after being expelled by authorities in the Middle East.

Patricia Keller, 64, was arraigned before Greensburg District Judge James Albert on charges of failing to attend a 2011 court appearance before Judge Debra Pezze on charges that she stole the money from the office of Dr. Andrew Stroh while working as the manager of his Tri-County Occupational Medicine practice.

Keller, who appeared in the nearly empty courtroom handcuffed and wearing a dark blue prison jumpsuit, listened attentively as Albert spoke about the charges against her. The only time she spoke was to tell Albert that she would need a public defender to handle the charges against her.

Keller, who lists her address as Elizabeth, Allegheny County, was ordered held in the Westmoreland County Prison on $750,000 bond.

For Keller, a white-haired registered nurse, her bizarre journey to Friday's hearing began when she was fired in 2009 after Stroh discovered she had used several business credit cards for cash withdrawals or personal purchases between August 2003 and May 2009, according to court records.

Stroh could not be reached for comment.

Authorities allege Keller wrote checks to herself and opened the credit accounts in her employer's name to finance shopping trips and lavish vacations in Las Vegas, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Aruba and Mexico.

Keller was taken into custody at Dulles International Airport near Washington on July 6 after authorities in the United Arab Emirates expelled her, allowed her to board a plane to the United States, then notified U.S. officials when she would land on American soil.

She was held in a detention center in Alexandria, Va., while awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania.

Police said Keller left the United States about a month before her scheduled court appearance in 2011, flew to Vancouver, British Columbia, then to Moscow and finally to Dubai with her former boyfriend, Alan Criswell, of Elizabeth.

Criswell, who could not be reached for comment, told police he flew home in the spring of 2011, but said Keller told him she planned to stay in Dubai and find a job, according to court records.

In May 2011, authorities learned Keller had opened a bank account in Dubai, although they were uncertain how she was supporting herself in what is ranked as one of the most expensive areas of the world in which to live.

Police said Keller appears to have literally walked away from her life in Westmoreland County, leaving behind personal items, clothing and furniture at her former residence on Allison Drive in Hempfield.

Keller owed her landlord $10,000 in rent and had been evicted, police said.

She faces a preliminary hearing before Albert on July 25.

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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