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Alleged shoplifter's request for a public defender lands her in more hot water in Salem

SALEM – A therapist charged with felony shoplifting may have landed herself in more legal trouble because she claimed to have no income and needed a public defender.

Prosecutors say that Maria Pereyra, 45, claimed to have zero income when she applied for the services of a public defender, but actually earns roughly between $58,240 and $72,800 a year as a therapist in Lawrence, Mass.

She also has a BMW, Mercedes Benz and a Toyota Avalon registered in her name, prosecutors said.

Prosecutor Jason Grosky said in a court motion that he found Pereyra's job description and a photo of her listed on the job-networking web site LinkedIn.

Grosky said he called Pereyra’s workplace, Arbour Counseling Services, and confirmed that she has worked there since Dec. 2, 2007, and earned $35 an hour as a full-time employee.

"Unfortunately, the entire system suffers when a person who has the ability to hire her own lawyer lies under oath to snatch for herself services that are meant to help our most needy defendants," Grosky said in a court motion.

Pereyra, of Lawrence, Mass., was called before Judge Robert Stephen on Thursday to answer why she claimed that she had no funds for a lawyer, but failed to show up in 10th Circuit Court in Salem.

Her public defender, Tara Witt, told Stephen that her client suddenly flew to Texas for a job interview. Stephen issued a warrant for Pereyra’s arrest.

She was initially arrested by police on Dec. 12 for a felony charge of willful concealment.

Grosky said that the charge, which is usually a misdemeanor, was elevated to a felony due to Pereyra’s prior convictions.
She could now possibly face a perjury charge as well.

Grosky noted in his request to determine the status of Pereyra’s legal representation that public resources are "undoubtedly tight" in New Hampshire, and could have been used elsewhere.

“Any public defender assigned to represent this defendant has now been robbed of time that could be better spent helping those truly poor people who desperately need the services of court-appointed counsel,” he said.

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