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Annie Dookhan was not the sole bad actor; she had a supporting cast

The idea that the former state chemist was the “sole bad actor” in the scandal that led to tens of thousands of drug convictions being thrown out is the kind of damage-control narrative all institutions use to minimize scandal.

Former state chemist Annie Dookhan in 2013David L. Ryan/GLOBE STAFF

When Annie Dookhan was dubbed by a state official who knew better “the sole bad actor” in the state’s drug lab scandal that exploded into view a decade ago, eyes should have rolled, if not a few more heads.

When it comes to institutional corruption, it is never one bad apple. Institutions instinctively favor that narrative, because it minimizes their culpability, suggesting there’s nothing wrong with the institution or its leaders; it‘s the fault of the bad actor, the rogue agent, the bad apple.

The FBI and Justice Department tried it in the case of Whitey Bulger, the South Boston gangster who murdered with impunity while he was an FBI informant. The two agencies pushed the rogue agent narrative, pinning everything on Bulger’s corrupt handler, John Connolly.


Mark Wolf, the federal judge who blew the conspiracy wide open and forced the FBI to admit Bulger was its snitch, nine years after The Boston Globe Spotlight Team first exposed the unholy alliance, concluded that more than a dozen FBI agents and supervisors, and Justice Department officials had engaged in misconduct in their handling of Bulger.

The Justice Department, in the name of special prosecutor John Durham, promised to get to the bottom of the culpability of other federal officials. If you held your breath waiting for Durham’s report and criminal charges, you’d be long dead by now.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy tried the same thing 20 years ago, denying, obfuscating, and lying about the extent of sexual abuse committed by priests against young people. It wasn’t just a few bad apples, the Spotlight Team showed, again, but a systemic coverup of institutional corruption within the church.

This is what institutions do to protect themselves. Those who pushed or embraced the idea that Annie Dookhan was alone in her guilt for evidence-tampering at the state drug were reading from a script as old as time.


Yet, because a group of a dogged defense attorneys persuaded a judge to release a trove of Inspector General documents, those who read from that script may find their throats tightening a bit.

As my colleague Andrea Estes, who has been peeling back layers of this onion since the scandal broke in 2012, reported, the newly released documents show that misconduct by employees at the lab went far beyond Dookhan. This has touched off a whole new round of legal motions to throw out drug convictions based on tainted evidence. Tens of thousands of convictions have already been thrown out.

At least four other lab employees may have either falsified tests or taken part in a coverup, according to documents from then Inspector General Glenn Cunha, who famously uttered those “sole bad actor” words.

Those documents show that, despite his public pronouncements, Cunha had referred others to the attorney general’s office for possible prosecution. No charges resulted.

History tells us, from Bloody Sunday to Watergate to the Jan. 6 insurrection, the coverup is often worse than the crime.

One of the defense attorneys leading the charge, J. Gregory Batten, used the C word, coverup, when asking US Attorney Rachael Rollins to file charges against officials who allegedly knew chemists other than Dookhan were engaged in misconduct but failed to disclose that to defense lawyers, not to mention the public.

Batten said the Office of the Inspector General “lied about Annie Dookhan being the sole bad actor . . . and that the attorney general’s office conspired with the OIG to cover up the lie.”


Batten said his client Ricky Simmons and others were convicted on evidence that was tainted not just by faulty drug analysis, but by “unequivocal government and prosecutorial corruption.”

Batten believes Cunha, former attorney general Martha Coakley, her successor as AG and now Governor Maura Healey, and a host of other officials should be investigated. Besides Rollins, Attorney General Andrea Campbell could open an investigation. Neither prosecutor has said whether they will. Those who Batten pointed a finger at have so far declined comment.

“This was a coverup,” Batten said. “And it needs to be exposed.”

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.