Feds: Hempfield woman accused in $217,000 theft fled to Moscow and Dubai

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Where did an investigation involving a dozen law-enforcement agencies finally track down a Westmoreland County woman accused of stealing $217,000?

At a mall -- in the United Arab Emirates.

Authorities said Patricia Keller, 64 -- on the lam since she failed to appear in court on theft charges in February 2011 -- turned up two years later in Dubai, a city of 2 million people in the northeast corner of the Arabian peninsula.

Ms. Keller, of Hempfield, was taken into custody in April and was flown back to the United States last weekend after the global effort involving local and federal agencies, as well as Interpol.

"It took a fantastic amount of cooperation among these various agencies to effect her arrest and return to the U.S.," Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said Monday.

"To obviously track somebody to the Middle East, and then through the efforts of all of the agencies, and getting her here -- it was unique," said Westmoreland County Detective William Brown, the case's investigating officer.

According to Detective Brown, Ms. Keller and her boyfriend traveled to Dubai for a vacation in January 2011.

The man, Alan Criswell, told detectives that instead of returning home with him, Ms. Keller announced that she planned to stay there and look for a job, according to a criminal complaint.

Investigators said he told them he was shocked to learn upon his return that his girlfriend was accused of swindling $217,536.96 from her employer, Tri-County Occupational Medicine in Youngwood -- money authorities said she used for excursions to Rite Aid and Giant Eagle, and more lavish locations, too, like Las Vegas, Boca Raton, Aruba, Mexico and Disney World.

A registered nurse, Ms. Keller worked as officer manager at Andrew Stroh's medical practice from February 2003 until she was fired in May 2009 after he found thousands of dollars had been misappropriated.

Ms. Keller was arrested in April 2010 and released on her own recognizance because of her age and previous clean record. But she didn't show up for a court date in February 2011, roughly a month after investigators say she and Mr. Criswell went to Dubai.

When detectives went to the Hempfield residence Ms. Keller has been renting, the owner said she owed more than $10,000 in rent and had been evicted.

"During the review of the residence, it was apparent that Ms. Keller left the residence in somewhat of a hurry," Detective Brown wrote in a criminal complaint.

A bench warrant was issued for her arrest and she was charged with flight to avoid apprehension and trial and default in required appearance in July.

Mr. Criswell could not be reached for comment and has not been charged in connection with this case.

How Ms. Keller has spent her two years in Dubai is still unclear.

Authorities know she obtained some employment and was living in a hotel.

"Nobody's really discussed with her exactly she was doing over there," said Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Jon Gallagher.

Investigators traced to her to Dubai through acquaintances, who told police she was accessing her bank account in the United Arab Emirates, Detective Brown said.

Authorities in Dubai discovered Ms. Keller was in the country on an expired visa. After her April 15 arrest by Dubai police, U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service revoked her American passport. She was in custody for a couple of days, then was essentially put on house arrest.

Ms. Keller was placed unescorted on a direct flight from Dubai to Washington, D.C. Federal and county law enforcement officials arrested her without incident around 6 a.m. Saturday at Dulles International Airport.

She will remain in the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania.

The unauthorized charges, including some cash withdraws, began in August 2003 and ended in May 2009.

A criminal complaint says Ms. Keller spent thousands of dollars on cruises, hotels rooms, flights and more. Charges were recorded in almost 20 states, just in the United States.

Authorities said she spent $1,900 on a down payment for a car, $2,800 on 17 trips to Rite Aid, more than $2,000 with Diamonds International in Aruba; almost $900 at a Best Buy; and thousands at a Golden Nugget Casino.

Mr. Peck said he wasn't aware of any money being recovered.

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Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @borntolede. First Published July 8, 2013 12:45 AM


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