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Mass. governor expects charges in lab scandal
Question of the Day
BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said Thursday he expects criminal charges will be brought in an investigation of misconduct by a state lab chemist who admitted faking drug-sample results, forging signatures and skipping proper procedures.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Patrick said he shut down the drug lab soon after learning of admissions that chemist Annie Dookhan made during an interview with state police at the end of August. The governor said he finds it troubling that Ms. Dookhan and her supervisors “did not seem to understand the gravity of this.”
State police say Ms. Dookhan tested more than 60,000 drug samples covering 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the lab. She resigned in March during an internal investigation by the Department of Public Health, which ran the lab up until July 1, when state police took over as part of a state budget directive.
The scandal has thrown thousands of drug convictions into question. Already, judges have reduced bail and put sentences on hold in approximately 20 cases handled by Ms. Dookhan.
Ms. Dookhan’s admissions were detailed in state police reports obtained Wednesday by the Associated Press.
“I fully expect, and indeed I will say, I hope that there are charges, and I think that all of those who are accountable for the impact on individual cases need to be held accountable,” Mr. Patrick said.
Ms. Coakley’s spokesman, Brad Puffer, said the criminal investigation “remains active and ongoing.”
“Our office provided the preliminary findings of our investigation to stakeholders so that immediate steps could be taken in the interest of justice,” Mr. Puffer said.
Chemists who worked with Ms. Dookhan told investigators they had concerns about her work for several years, but they either convinced themselves they were invalid or reported them to supervisors who failed to intervene.
Ms. Dookhan admitted to investigators that she faked drug-sample results for two to three years, according to the report.
Attorney Rosemary Scapicchio, who represents several defendants whose samples Ms. Dookhan handled, called for federal officials to take over the probe.
“I can’t imagine she could have been this corrupt without someone noticing,” she said. “The investigation needs to go deeper than Annie Dookhan to get to the point of ‘How did she get away with it?’”
The state has created a central office to examine cases Ms. Dookhan was involved with and figure out how to deal with them.
After state police took over the lab, they said they discovered that her violations were much more extensive than previously believed and went beyond sloppiness into deliberate evidence mishandling.
Supervisors suspended Ms. Dookhan’s lab duties in June 2011, when she was caught forging a colleague’s initials on paperwork after taking 90 drug samples from evidence, according to police. But she told police later she disobeyed orders and continued to access an evidence database and give law enforcement officials information on their cases.
On Aug. 30, Mr. Patrick ordered state police to close the lab.
That day, a police lieutenant spoke with Ms. Dookhan to tell her she should get a lawyer because she could face criminal charges.
Ms. Dookhan cried on the phone. She said she was involved in a long divorce from her husband, didn’t have money and didn’t know any lawyers.
Anne Goldbach from the Committee for Public Counsel Services, which oversees legal representation for indigents, said the interviews included in the police report show the problems at the now-closed Hinton State Laboratory are more troubling than originally believed. She said it appears there was unsupervised access to the evidence office and safe.
Ms. Goldbach said that because Ms. Dookhan was in charge of quality control equipment, other chemists could have gotten false test results without knowing it.
“It calls into question all the testing done by the lab,” she said.
Attorney John T. Martin said Wednesday that he noticed a pattern of suspicious behavior from Ms. Dookhan while looking over his clients’ cases.
He said that in four cases Ms. Dookhan determined the weight of the drug sample was just 1 gram above the amount needed for a more serious penalty even though police reports made the seizure seem smaller.
Concerns from Ms. Dookhan’s colleagues prompted two supervisors to audit her work in 2010, but they just looked at paperwork and didn’t retest drug samples.
Things started to unravel in spring 2011 with the forgery incident. A colleague told police it was “almost like Dookhan wanted to get caught.”
One lab supervisor told police later that he believed Ms. Dookhan had a mental breakdown.
Ms. Dookhan told investigators several times in an August interview that she knew she had done wrong.
“I screwed up big time,” she said, according to the report from investigators for the attorney general’s office. “I messed up bad. It’s my fault. I don’t want the lab to get in trouble.”
Authorities haven’t commented on Ms. Dookan’s possible motives as their probe continues. She hasn’t responded to repeated requests for comment.
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