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Prosecutor with ties to drug lab chemist resigns

The Norfolk County prosecutor who carried on an unusual and sometimes personal e-mail correspondence with controversial state chemist Annie Dookhan abruptly resigned Wednesday, saying he did not want to be “a further distraction” from the investigation into criminal misconduct in the state drug lab in Jamaica Plain.

The Globe reported Wednesday that George Papachristos, an assistant district attorney who prosecuted numerous drug cases in which Dookhan provided the drug analysis, exchanged dozens of ­e-mails with Dookhan, some veering into personal subjects. At one point during the correspondence that spanned at least two years, Dookhan’s husband tried to contact Papachristos directly, apparently out of concern that the two were having an affair.

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State Police have concluded that the two were not romantically ­involved, but that their relationship raised even more questions about the integrity of Dookhan’s drug analysis. She is already facing criminal charges of falsifying evidence and lying about her resume.

On Wednesday afternoon, ­Papachristos, 37, submitted his resignation to Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey.

“The long and short of it is he reached a conclusion that I concurred with, that he’s a distraction to the bigger issue: the operation and supervision of the lab and the alleged illegal conduct of the lab chemist, Annie Dookhan,” Morrissey said in an interview. “He reached the conclusion that it would be difficult for him to continue his employment. He’s a good prosecutor.”

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The resignation of Papachristos marks the first time a prosecutor has paid a price in connection with the scandal at the state drug lab, which has jeopardized up to 34,000 drug cases and has already resulted in release of scores of drug defendants. Until now, the focus has been on Dookhan, who worked at the state lab for nine years, and the failure of her supervisors to rein her in despite warning signs that she was rampantly violating lab protocol.

But the State Police report into misconduct at the lab makes it clear that Dookhan commonly spoke directly to both police and prosecutors without following the normal procedure of going through her supervisors. Co-workers told police that Dookhan had a particular affinity for Norfolk County law enforce­ment officials. Her undoing came when supervisors caught her improperly removing evidence for 60 Norfolk County drug cases from the secure storage area.

However, Dookhan told investigators that no prosecutors or police pressured her to alter drug tests on their behalf. Prosecutors say that not all contact with Dookhan or other chemists is improper, noting that it is important for prosecutors to speak with drug analysts about their testimony or analysis for upcoming trials.

But Dookhan’s chatty e-mails, including one in which she laments her unhappy marriage, were unusual enough that State Police interviewed Papachristos about the relationship with Dookhan. Although most of the e-mails discuss drug cases, Dookhan also opened up personally to Papachristos, accord­ing to two people who have read the e-mails, prompting him to remind Dookhan that their relationship was only professional.

However, Dookhan’s husband apparently was not convinced. He called a startled Papachristos several times at one point, leaving messages on his voicemail. The two men never spoke directly.

Norfolk County officials say that nothing Papachristos did with Dookhan violated the law, and he told Morrissey he met her only once.

However, as the controversy around his relationship with Dookhan intensified Wednesday, ­Papachristos decided to resign.

“This is not about prosecutors; it’s about the lab,” said Morrissey. “He doesn’t want to be that distraction. He wants the criminal justice system to work appropriately. The two of us came to the same conclusion. He offered his resignation, and I accepted.”

Scott Allen can be reached at ­
allen@globe.com
. Andrea
Estes can be reached at
estes@globe.com.
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