Former state chemist Annie Dookhan does not have a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts Boston as she claims on her resume, officials at the school confirmed Tuesday, raising fresh doubts about the credibility of the woman at the center of the burgeoning state drug laboratory scandal.
Dookhan, who resigned from the Jamaica Plain lab in March amid an investigation, received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the university in 2001, officials said. But school records show that Dookhan took no additional courses after completing her undergraduate degree in 2001. UMass Boston officials said Dookhan requested an application for the master’s program, but never completed it.
Dookhan started working for the drug lab, run at the time by the state Department of Public Health, in 2003. She handled 60,000 drug samples, casting doubt on the reliability of evidence used in some 34,000 criminal cases.
Additionally, the chemist testified in criminal cases about 150 times since 2009 and may have jeopardized all of those cases by claiming under oath that she had a master’s degree in chemistry. A transcript suggests she lied about her education in at least one court hearing, in August 2010.
State officials said that when Dookhan applied for her job at the lab, her resume suggested she was working on her master’s degree at UMass Boston. But, they said, an advanced degree was not a job requirement.
When pursuing the job, officials said, Dookhan signed an application attesting, under threat of perjury if she lied, that the information was accurate.
“The Department of Public Health hired Annie on Nov. 3, 2003, as a Chemist I, based upon her meeting the minimum entrance requirements of the position,” said Alec Loftus, spokesman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. “In 2005, Annie was reclassified as a Chemist II. While neither of the positions she held required a master’s degree, it is now clear that she intentionally misled the department about her education during the course of her employment.”
Dookhan, who has not been charged with criminal wrongdoing, has been under scrutiny since June 2011, when she improperly removed 90 drug samples from the evidence room without signing them out as required. But the chemist continued to serve as an expert witness in criminal cases for months until state officials became concerned that her misconduct was more extensive than previously believed.
The Patrick administration has identified 1,141 inmates in Massachusetts jails and prisons convicted based on evidence handled by Dookhan. Given the allegations against Dookhan, all of that evidence is now considered potentially tainted.
As drug cases continued to unravel in the scandal’s wake, a Brockton man serving 17 years in prison was released on bail Tuesday morning and a Wareham man was freed minutes later after serving half of his three-year sentence.
If not for an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold on Manuel J. Abreu, he would have walked out of Plymouth Superior Court on the $7,500 cash bail posted by his family.
Despite arguments from prosecutors, Judge Frank Gaziano granted the bail, in part because of concerns about drug evidence tested at the now-shuttered lab.
Defense attorney Michael Traft said the weight of cocaine authorities allegedly linked to Abreu increased during the years it was in government custody.
Traft said the allegations about Dookhan manipulating drug samples and the fact that she is shown on government records as having had access to evidence in Abreu’s case warranted his client being freed on bail pending an appeal.
When Abreu was arrested by Brockton police in 2005, they allegedly found 182 grams of cocaine in the house he sublet. When retested following the Dookhan scandal, the weight of the cocaine had increased, to 206.25 grams, according to Traft.
Police also allegedly seized crack cocaine weighing 304 grams when tested in the lab in 2005. It now weighs 289 grams, but state officials say shrinkage resulted from moisture evaporating from the crack.
Gaziano sentenced Abreu to 17½ years in state prison earlier this year for drug sales in a school zone and drug trafficking, which carries a mandatory minimum of 15 years behind bars.
“Judge Gaziano has recognized the seriousness of the issue here, based on what we know so far, and ruled today with that in mind,” Traft said.
“We are very positive that he will be home soon,” said Maria Abreu, the defendant’s sister, who attended the bail hearing. “We will fight this all the way.”
After his family posted bail, Abreu, who was born in Cape Verde, was transferred to federal custody. It is unclear whether immigrations authorities will hold him until Nov. 27, when Abreu is scheduled to be back in court on a hearing on his appeal.
At the same time that Abreu was granted bail, another man, Joshua P. Fernandes, was freed in the same courthouse, after serving about half of his sentence for cocaine trafficking and drug possession. Fernandes was convicted in March 2011.
“Annie Dookhan was the person who weighed it, and she was the quality control supervisor for the lab,” said Kathleen Lucey, Fernandes’s attorney, moments after his release.
“I was a prosecutor out in Hampden for a lot of years, and I just thank God she didn’t touch any Hampden cases because I don’t know how these DA’s are handling this. . . . I feel for them,” Lucey said.
“He has nothing pending, nothing else, he’s a free man,” Lucey said.
Judge Richard Chin was the trial judge in the case, and after only 10 minutes allowed the “stay of execution of sentence,” after prosecutors agreed.
Fernandes’s family hugged him and then placed a call to his grandmother. “She’s so happy he’s going to be home for the holidays,” Lucey said.
Fernandes was arrested Nov. 20, 2009, during a raid at his home in Wareham. Fernandes said his Cranberry Highway home had been under surveillance by police.
After executing a search warrant, police said they found a cache of illegal drugs hidden in the house. He was charged with trafficking cocaine over 28 grams, possession of Percocet, and possession of Suboxone.
Law enforcement officials are scrambling to ensure that no one has been incarcerated on tainted evidence because of the alleged improprieties by Dookhan. The lab was closed after discovery of the scandal.
Defense attorneys across the state are examining whether Dookhan was involved in even more cases than previously believed, pointing to court testimony in which she states she conducted reviews of other chemists’ drug testing. However, her name is not listed on any of that paperwork, leaving no paper trail for testing that she reviewed.
Attorney Patricia A. DeJuneas said she is handling an appeal of a conviction last year in Suffolk County. The allegations against Dookhan could become part of that appeal. In that case, Dookhan testified that she was involved with reviewing another chemist’s findings, but Dookhan’s name did not appear on paperwork certifying that the drugs had been tested.
“If she was doing that in other cases, there would be a whole slew of cases in which her name doesn’t appear in the certificates,” DeJuneas said. “Her impact is going to be a lot wider than just the cases in which her name appears.”
DeJuneas said defense attorneys are finding more questionable work by Dookhan as they review their own cases, but are waiting to hear from district attorneys on how they will proceed.
Miriam Conrad, head of the federal public defender agency, said the tally of cases involved in the federal court system will be far more than the 15 that state officials have already identified.
Conrad said she and other lawyers have been working with probation officials to identify cases on their own. Federal public defenders will have to look beyond a state list of cases that involved Dookhan to identify defendants who were sentenced as career criminals or had sentencing enhancements in federal court based on previous state drug convictions. That will have to include researching older state cases.
“The bottom line is, we appreciate their efforts, and any information we can get is extremely welcome, but we are conducting our own search of our own files,” she said.
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