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State drug lab fallout continues

BROCKTON — A Brockton man sentenced to 17 years in prison was granted bail this morning and a Wareham man was freed minutes later after serving half of his three-year sentence, as drug cases continued to unravel in the wake of the scandal at the state drug lab.

If not for an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer on Manuel J. Abreu of Brockton, he would have walked out of Plymouth Superior Court this morning on $7,500 cash bail posted by his family.

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Judge Frank Gaziano granted the bail, despite arguments from prosecutors, because of concerns about drug evidence tested at the now-shuttered lab, where ex-chemist Annie Dookhan allegedly mishandled tens of thousands of drug samples.

Defense attorney Michael Traft said the weight of the cocaine authorities allegedly linked to Abreu had actually 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 the evidence in Abreu’s case, warranted his client being freed from state prison on bail pending an appeal.

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When Abreu was arrested by Brockton police in 2005, they allegedly found 182 grams of cocaine in the house he subletted at 28 Huntington St. When it was retested following the Dookhan scandal, the cocaine had increased in weight to 206.25 grams, according to Traft.

Police also allegedly seized crack cocaine with a net weight of 304 grams when tested in the lab in 2005. That sample now weighs 289 grams, but state officials say that shrinkage resulted from moisture evaporating out of 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.

“I think 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 was transported to the Plymouth jail on the detainer. It is unclear whether immigrations authorities will hold him until Nov. 27, when Abreu is due back in court on a status 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 approximately 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 assented.

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 an early-morning raid at his home in Wareham. Fernandes and his Cranberry Highway home had been under surveillance for some time by police

After executing a search warrant, police said they found a cache of illegal drugs hidden in various locations throughout the home. He was charged with trafficking cocaine over 28 grams, possession of Percocet, and possession Suboxone.

Law enforcement officials are scrambling to ensure that no one has been incarcerated on tainted evidence due to the alleged improprieties by Dookhan, a chemist who worked for years at the state Department of Public Health lab in Jamaica Plain. State Police took over the lab in July. The lab has been closed in the wake of the scandal.

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