- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - An investigation of irregularities of the Alaska State Crime Lab led to the arrest of a former employee Thursday.

Stephen Palmer, 53, of Palmer, has been charged with scheme to defraud, drug misconduct and four counts of evidence tampering, state prosecutors said. He’s also charged with four misdemeanor counts of official misconduct.

Palmer was in the Anchorage Jail on Thursday night and online court documents did not indicate that he was represented by an attorney.

Prosecutors in January announced that irregularities has been found in the lab’s reference standards, the nearly pure samples of drugs ordered from a pharmaceutical distributor to use as references in a crime lab. John Skidmore, director of the Department of Law Criminal Division, said at the time that the irregularities were found in substance reference standards for morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, opium, codeine and amphetamine.

Palmer was hired as a crime lab analyst in May 1992. He resigned Dec. 1, 2011, for what officials said was no apparent reason.

A criminal complaint issued by prosecutors detailed the criminal inquiry by Alaska State Trooper investigator Gordon Bittner.

About a month after Palmer’s resignation, troopers went to his home in response to a 911 hang-up and found Palmer unconscious. His wife told troopers Palmer was trying to detox but that she had caught him with a drug. Troopers seized a “poppy straw” that contained residue of morphine, heroin and other drugs, Bittner wrote.

Bittner determined drugs went missing in two criminal cases in which Palmer had analyzed seized substances.

He also concluded that in another seizure handled by Palmer, he had identified five tablets as methadone. When re-examined, however, another analyst determined that Palmer had substituted similar-looking over-the-counter cold medicine tablets for the opiate.

Palmer reportedly told his son that he’d had a skiing accident and had become addicted to controlled substances, according to Bittner. The investigators seized a letter written to Palmer’s son that detailed Palmer’s drug and alcohol history.

Prosecutors said Thursday they do not believe the irregularities discovered in reference standards affected the validity of testing performed by other analysts. Lab authorities are reviewing past cases in which Palmer was involved as an analyst.

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