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Lab analyst held in drug thefts

Joseph Graves, 32, stole and sold drugs he was supposed to be testing, prosecutors said.

Joseph Graves, 32, stole and sold drugs he was supposed to be testing, prosecutors said.

PENSACOLA, Fla. — A former crime lab analyst told investigators he had problems with his back and knew he was in trouble when confronted in late January about hundreds of painkillers and other pills missing from sealed evidence containers, according to police documents released Wednesday.

Joseph Graves, 32, was arrested late Tuesday on charges of stealing and selling drugs he was supposed to be testing as evidence. The affidavit does not specify whether Graves, who worked for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, used any of the pills himself.

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He was released from the Escambia County Jail on a $290,000 bond Tuesday night. Graves and his attorney have declined numerous interview requests.

Longtime Pensacola-area defense attorney Randy Etheridge said Wednesday he interacted with Graves when the analyst testified as an expert witness or processed evidence in cases that he handled. He said Graves always appeared competent and professional.

‘‘The entire legal community around here is shocked by this,’’ he said.

Graves was arrested a day after he resigned from the position he held since December 2005 at the crime lab in Pensacola. In 2009, he was promoted to supervisor at the lab, which processes criminal evidence for law enforcement agencies throughout Florida. He is charged with grand theft of a controlled substance, 12 counts of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, and nine counts of trafficking in illegal drugs.

He’s accused of selling oxycodone, morphine, and hydromorphone.

Drug charges

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The 13-page affidavit released Wednesday details numerous cases dating from February 2013 through January in which Graves is accused of replacing hundreds of narcotic pills with over-the-counter allergy pills, laxatives, aspirin, and homeopathic medicines.

Investigators said Graves handled 2,600 cases, most of which are drug-related. The compromised cases could possibly affect 80 law enforcement agencies in 35 counties.

The department is using agents from each of its offices to review all the cases handled by Graves and has contacted state attorneys and law enforcement agencies across the state that have pending cases that could be compromised.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have said the thefts could create massive problems for courts and law enforcement agencies throughout Florida and could result in some convictions being thrown out and sentences reduced.

The department is reviewing its drug-testing program to try to prevent something similar from happening.

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