JAN 2020, BEND, OR – A Bend woman considered a “trusted office manager” of a pediatric medical practice for nearly two decades was sentenced to five years in prison Tuesday for stealing more than $200,000 from her former employer.
Michele Louise Luck, 52, pleaded guilty to 42 felony charges last week, including aggravated theft and multiple counts of theft and unlawful use of a computer, for siphoning the money from various Central Oregon Pediatric Associates accounts over the course of about four years.
At a sentencing hearing in Deschutes County Circuit Court on Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Kandy Gies said Luck stole the money by issuing herself additional paychecks and depositing more than $156,000 in COPA checks into a credit card account in her name.
Managing partner Dr. Valerie Johnson Bailey testified at the sentencing that Luck was employed at COPA, which has clinics in Bend and Redmond, for 17 years and was given more responsibility “as COPA’s trust in Michele grew.”
Bailey said the practice, which grew from six doctors to 15 during Luck’s time there, treated her like family and helped her through a bout with depression, a husband being sent to prison and a divorce.
Luck showed little remorse at her sentencing hearing, initially declined to say anything and did not apologize for the embezzlement.
“After all this, you don’t want to say anything?” asked Deschutes County Circuit Court Judge Michael Sullivan, who sentenced Luck on Tuesday.
Luck responded that she knew taking the money was wrong and said, “I wish I could take it back.”
When asked if she had repaid any of the $270,555 she owes the practice, Luck said she didn’t have the money and that her 76-year-old mother has been supporting her for the past year.
“I have lost my house, I have lost my vehicles, I have lost everything I own,” she said.
Luck’s mother, JoAnn Henrichsen, testified Tuesday that she and her husband put up $21,000 in bail money for their daughter after she was arrested because, “We didn’t think she was guilty of this.”
Henrichsen said she and her 80-year-old husband withdrew the money from their retirement savings with the assumption they would get it back.
But the bail money will now go toward repaying Luck’s debt to COPA, as provided by Oregon law.
The suspected theft was reported in early January, after Luck altered a bonus check she had issued to herself, according to court documents filed earlier this year. Investigators found Luck had given herself unauthorized bonuses in significantly higher amounts than other employees received.
When Dr. Bailey filed the report, she told authorities there had been an unexplained drop in revenue even though patient visits had remained consistent.
Bend police searched Luck’s southwest Bend home on Jan. 29 and found flat screen televisions, computers and paperwork showing Luck’s monthly car payment for an $81,000 Audi AA8 was nearly $1,000 per month, said John Lawrence, the detective assigned to the case. Luck also owned a 2005 Cadillac STS and had extensive remodeling done to her home, according to court documents.
During the search of her home, investigators found financial records showing Luck had made “a lot of online purchases” of golfing equipment and clothing and that she had paid for an island vacation for herself and her daughter, Lawrence said.
After Luck was arrested, she sent a letter to COPA containing “thinly veiled threats” of exposing the practice’s “inner workings,” Dr. John Chunn said at her sentencing hearing Tuesday.
“That violation was beyond insulting,” Chunn said. “It is one thing to steal, but another thing to threaten.”
Both Chunn and Bailey said the impact on COPA went beyond the money Luck stole.
“Although we have always refused to allow this case to interfere with our serving the children and families in our community, it was still a painful process that affected us personally,” Bailey said. “We are a family here, all of us, the staff and clinicians that work so hard to keep our babies and kids healthy. It’s tragic that she violated that trust.”
Before handing down Luck’s sentence, Sullivan said her actions left a “legacy of theft, deceit and betrayal.”
“I cannot say how disappointed I am in you as a person,” Sullivan said. “You truly do deserve to go to prison.”
Luck is one of two office managers charged in Deschutes County this year with stealing tens of thousands of dollars from a Central Oregon medical organization.
Therese Ann Meyer, 35, has been charged with three counts each of aggravated theft, forgery and identity theft and one count of unlawful use of a computer in connection with the suspected theft of about $50,000 from Volunteers in Medicine. The organization relies on volunteer doctors and donations to provide medical care to low-income patients.
Meyer, of Bend, is scheduled to appear in Deschutes County Circuit Court on Tuesday for an arraignment on the charges.