Car crash fueled woman’s opioid addiction, Nashua arrest, lawyer says

NASHUA – Despite growing up in a household where substance abuse and stealing were “facts of life,” JennyLiz Vega led a law-abiding, productive life that, according to her attorney, included being the valedictorian of the class of 2001 at Holyoke High School in Massachusetts.

Several years later, however, around the time Vega turned 30, she was involved in a car crash that left her with serious injuries – and a recovery process that involved prescriptions for opioids to manage her pain.

“Once the prescriptions ran out, she started buying on the street,” attorney Ryan Guptill said Wednesday at Vega’s bail hearing, which took place in Hillsborough County Superior Court-South a day after she was arrested in connection with the theft of more than $2,300 in merchandise from The Paper Store in Nashua.

“This was a time when opioids were routinely handed out without much regard,” Guptill said, adding that Vega soon resorted to allegedly stealing things to sell in order to support the opioid addiction she apparently developed while recovering from the crash.

In just five years, Vega, now 35 and a single mother of two children, ages 15 and 8, racked up some 20 convictions and a slew of defaults, probation and court order violations and at least two currently active arrest warrants, according to Assistant County Attorney Brett Harpster, the prosecutor at Wednesday’s hearing.

And pretty much all the charges Vega faced, or currently faces, are related to theft, including shoplifting, larceny, credit card fraud, misuse of credit cards, and at least four subsequent probation violations, Harpster told the court.

He asked Temple to set bail at $25,000 cash only for Vega, calling her “an absolute flight risk” if she were released from jail.

But Guptill, citing legislation enacted last year that prohibits judges from setting bail out of reach of defendants to keep them in jail, said Vega would have trouble raising “a couple hundred dollars” for bail, much less the $25,000 Harpster recommended.

“The amount of (bail) money that would assure (a defendant’s) appearance in court should be proportional to their ability to post it,” Guptill said, adding that the purpose of the legislation is “to end the disparity between the very wealthy and everyone else.”

Temple, after reviewing the matter, agreed, but also took into account Guptill’s representation that his client has been doing everything she can to put in place a plan “to turn her life in the right direction.” Much of that work, he added, was done with the help of Connecticut corrections officials during the past five months, while Vega was in jail in that state.

Temple set Vega’s bail at $100 cash, with conditions that include continuing treatment, having no contact with The Paper Store, and making all her court appearances.

The first is a review hearing scheduled for April 22 in the Nashua court.

The alleged theft that landed Vega in jail in Nashua occurred back on Sept. 5, when, according to Harpster and court documents, she entered The Paper Store on Daniel Webster Highway, took a shopping cart, placed a large Kate Spade tote inside and opened it up. She then allegedly made her way to a Vera Bradley display, where she selected 23 purses, put them in the tote, headed for the store exit, took the tote and allegedly left without paying for the items.

Nashua police called to the store that day were told by a manager that an “unknown female” stole $2,355 in merchandise, which triggered the police investigation.

Detectives reviewed store security videos, and about two weeks later were in contact with the president of The Paper Store chain.

He told police similar thefts had taken place at Massachusetts and Connecticut stores, and allegedly “involved the same female,” the reports state.

In October, a tipster called a western Massachusetts TV station after seeing a news segment in which he or she apparently recognized Vega, and the station called police.

Representatives of several Massachusetts law enforcement agencies collaborated, and eventually tracked down Vega and arrested her.

Nashua police, meanwhile, issued a warrant for her arrest, which they served Tuesday as Vega was being released from a Connecticut jail. They returned her to Nashua, and in a brief interview, police said, Vega admitted to stealing the items from the Nashua store, telling police she did so to sell the items “to support her drug addiction.”

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s hearing, Vega asked to briefly address the court.

“I want to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to prove to you, my family, and myself that I can do this,” she said of turning her life around.

“I can do this, and I will do this.”

Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256, dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com, or @Telegraph_DeanS.