SPRINGFIELD — A Clinton woman who has pleaded guilty in federal court to embezzling more than $406,000 from a Clinton physician has asked for time to hire a medical expert for an opinion on whether her opioid use contributed to her criminal behavior.
A hearing set for Tuesday to review a mental health evaluation for Veronica Luster was canceled after her attorney asked instead for time to retain an expert on opioids.
Luster, 48, who pleaded guilty in March to mail and wire fraud, was released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond last week that requires her to remain at home except for medical and legal appointments. She was taken into custody Sept. 1 for a mental health evaluation.
The defense raised the issue of Luster’s mental fitness as she was scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 1 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois on the charges that could send her to federal prison for 20 years on each count. She also must pay $370,000 restitution under the terms of the plea agreement.
Luster’s 10-year use of prescription opioids was disclosed by defense lawyer Lee Smith in the motion requesting additional time to explore how the drugs Luster was given for chronic pain may have impacted her behavior.
What the defense characterized as Luster’s use of “substantial amounts of opioids for pain management” occurred during the decade she committed the alleged theft from Dr. Farrukh Kureishy, former president of Clinton Internal Medicine.
Luster’s abstinence from the painkillers over her 2½ months in federal custody “has had a profound and positive impact on her cognitive thinking,” Smith argued in his motion. The defense lawyer also noted that he has witnessed differences in Luster’s perception and communication following her return from custody.
“Recently the new guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discourage the use of opioids for treatment of long-term chronic pain,” Smith said.
Smith previously told Judge Sue E. Myerscough that his client suffers from chronic back pain and glaucoma and several other medical conditions.
The expert’s report on Luster’s opioid use could be presented as a mitigating factor at Luster’s sentencing hearing that is now set for Feb. 2.
Luster’s evaluation by doctors at a federal facility in Fort Worth, Texas, followed her claim that she may suffer from kleptomania, a disorder marked by the inability to refrain from stealing.
In the government’s motion in opposition to Luster’s recent release, Assistant U.S. Attorney Victor Yanz argued that Luster’s pending retail theft case in McLean County makes her a danger to the safety of the community.
Video surveillance of a July 21 shopping trip to Von Maur in Bloomington shows Luster taking seven items valued at $448.90, including clothing, toys and a $250 Waterford Crystal vase, and placing them in a bag before leaving the store without paying, according to the federal court filing.
In a victim impact statement provided to Myerscough in September, Kureishy, who employed Luster as an office manager, said he was forced to close his practice because of the theft losses.
The doctor returned to a medical practice at Warner Hospital and Health Services in Clinton where he had worked before opening his office in 2004.