Statement from DA Sullivan on Amherst drug lab allegations

Date: 
01.20.2013

"We are deeply disturbed by the allegations that a chemist at the Amherst Lab not only breached internal protocols, but also apparently engaged in criminal conduct.  Our Office first learned of this incident on Friday, January 18, 2013, at which time Massachusetts State Police personnel (including members of the Detectives Unit assigned to the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office) responded to the Lab and commenced an investigation.  We promptly notified the Attorney General’s Office of the alleged breach of protocols and potential criminal conduct, and they assumed jurisdiction over the matter Friday evening.  Consequently, this Office cannot comment on any of the specifics of the investigation, and all further inquiries should be directed to the Attorney General’s Office.

 

"Our Office has already commenced an internal assessment of how many criminal prosecutions, both past and present, may be jeopardized by this chemist’s alleged wrongdoing.  If any cases are discovered in which the integrity of the drug evidence may have been compromised, we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that justice is done."

 

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Statement from Massachusetts District Attorneys:

"As a result of information received last Friday, State Police detectives assignedto Northwestern District Attorney's office responded to the state drug testing facility in Amherst to investigate allegations involving a chemist employed there. Friday evening, the District Attorney’s Office turned the investigation over to the Attorney General’s Office, which subsequently conducted a further investigation that has resulted in the chemist’s arrest.  The evidence suggests that this chemist, Sonja Farak, stole illicit drugs that had already been tested. The continuing investigation and prosecution of this matter will be undertaken by Attorney General Martha Coakley's office. Farak had been employed as a chemist with the Department of Public Health until responsibility for testing of drug evidence was transferred to State Police this past summer. 

 
"While at this point evidence indicates that the chemist stole already tested illegal drugs, the state’s District Attorneys will nonetheless undertake internal case reviews to determine which, if any, of their prosecutions involved Farak as a chemist, to assess the impact of her actions on any cases. As with cases affected by the arrest and indictment of former Department of Public Health chemist Annie Dookhan, the state's district attorneys will also work with other affected agencies to share information on Farak's cases. Finally, while it is too early to say what effect this incident will have on cases in which Farak was involved, the state’s District Attorneys remain committed to ensuring that the rights of all defendants are properly respected and the public safety preserved, and therefore will remain proactive in identifying cases, notifying defense counsel and bringing them before the court. 
 
"District Attorneys working through the fallout of the Dookhan matter have made impressive strides in taking appropriate action on potentially compromised cases. Those strides come at a cost, however, as experienced prosecutors have been taken out of rotation to serve on DPH case task forces, causing overwhelming caseload ripple effects throughout the District Attorney’s offices. A full six months after Dookhan's actions were exposed, the state's District Attorneys continue to operate only from existing resources, leaving hundreds and hundreds of cases in turmoil and creating fiscal chaos for the District Attorneys.  
 
"Not only have the Governor and Legislature not acted to give the DAs relief with these extraordinary efforts, but prosecutors statewide are now presented with the possibility of unrealistic, unfair, and unacceptable mid-year budget cuts. The District Attorneys continue to urge the governor and legislature to take swift and appropriate action to put the necessary resources in place to ensure the proper functioning of the state’s criminal justice system."

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Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General's statement:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                MEDIA CONTACT:

January 20, 2013                                                                                      Brad Puffer

                                                                                                               (617) 727-2543

                                                                                                               (857) 753-2439 cell

                                                                                                    

 

STATE CRIME LAB CHEMIST ARRESTED FOR TAMPERING WITH EVIDENCE, POSSESSION OF DRUGS

 

NORTHAMPTON – A chemist at the Massachusetts State Crime Laboratory in Amherst has been arrested and charged with allegedly tampering with drug evidence and possessing drugs, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced.

 

                Sonja Farak, 35, of Northampton, was arrested last night without incident at her home by Massachusetts State Police. She is charged with two counts of Tampering with Evidence, one count of Possession of a Class A Substance, and one count of Possession of a Class B Substance. Farak will be arraigned on Tuesday morning in Eastern Hampshire District Court.

 

                “Chemists at the State Drug Laboratory are entrusted with ensuring the integrity of the evidence that they analyze, both for law enforcement and the defendants who have been charged,” Attorney General Coakley said. “We allege that this chemist violated that trust, placing the integrity of that evidence in question. We are continuing to investigate her motivation and the extent of the crimes committed.”

 

                The Amherst Drug Laboratory is charged with storing and analyzing alleged controlled substances seized by local and state police. On Friday, members of the Amherst Laboratory contacted State Police to report a discrepancy in the controlled substance inventory held in evidence.

 

                State Police commenced an immediate investigation into the matter. Based on that investigation, authorities allege that the defendant tampered with drug evidence at the Lab.  In one instance, it appeared that the defendant had removed a substance from a case that had previously tested positive for cocaine and replaced it with a counterfeit substance that no longer tested positive.

 

                Upon further investigation, authorities determined that the defendant possessed what appeared to be Class A and B substances. 

 

                The investigation into this matter is ongoing.

 

                These charges are allegations, and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

 

                The matter is being investigated by Massachusetts State Police. It is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Anne Kaczmarek and Criminal Bureau Chief John Verner of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.