State chemist faces 24 more charges in lab scandal
A grand jury indicted state drug lab chemist Annie Dookhan Monday on 27 counts of obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence, perjury, and other charges in connection with the biggest law enforcement scandal in recent Massachusetts history.
The indictments announced by Attorney General Martha Coakley greatly expand the charges against Dookhan, 35, since she was originally arrested in September on three counts, one of them a misdemeanor charge of lying on her resume. All 24 new charges are felonies that could carry long prison terms if she is convicted.
“We allege that Annie Dookhan tampered with drug evidence and fabricated test results on multiple occasions,” Coakley said in a statement. “Her alleged actions have sent ripple effects throughout the criminal justice system. We are committed to working with all stakeholders to fix this situation and restore trust in the criminal justice system.”
Governor Deval Patrick, who shut down the lab in August and transferred the responsibility for drug testing to the State Police, said Dookhan is “facing very serious charges for good reason.”
“She is at the center of the drug lab’s failures and bears the primary responsibility for what went wrong there,” he said. “Our focus now is on making this right.”
Dookhan, who is free on $10,000 bail, is to be arraigned Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston. Her lawyer, Nicolas Gordon, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The indictments, involving 22 defendants overall, allege that Dookhan altered drug tests in six cases and improperly removed drug samples from the evidence room in another, forging a colleague’s initials to cover up her misconduct. She faces an additional 17 counts of obstruction of justice in cases from counties across Eastern Massachusetts, including Suffolk, Plymouth, Middlesex, Norfolk, Essex, and Bristol.
Officials in the attorney general’s office said the obstruction-of-justice charges involve either lying in court about her academic background — officials say she falsely claimed to have a master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston — or directly falsifying drug reports that county prosecutors used to try defendants.
In one case, Suffolk County defendant Jeffrey Banks was indicted on charges of selling cocaine in 2011 based on testing by Dookhan, even though Banks said he was peddling fake cocaine. Prosecutors were forced to drop the case after the State Police retested the sample and it came back negative.
Another case involved Robert Annunziata, who was convicted in Bristol Superior Court in January 2012 of cocaine trafficking based on Dookhan’s drug testing. His lawyer, James P. Powderly, said he was unaware that Annunziata’s case was one cited in Monday’s indictment, but said his client was recently released in the fall-out from the scandal after serving two years of a 15-year sentence.
Powderly said that his client was granted a new trial because Dookhan served as the drug analyst. The judge then allowed Annunziata to plead guilty to lesser charges and set him free.
“He has a second shot at life,” said Powderly, who said Annunziata has returned to his fiancee and two young daughters in New York. “He was facing 15 years, and he was only about 24 years old, without much of a record at all.”
Each count of tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice carries up to 10 years in state prison. The single perjury count carries up to 20 years in prison. Lying about her degree is a misdemeanor, carrying up to 2½ years in county jail.
Dookhan allegedly “dry labbed’’ seized drugs, which means she falsely certified that she tested samples when, in fact, she had merely made a visual examination.
During Dookhan’s nine years at the lab, Coakley said, a second chemist would test the same sample as Dookhan and come up with a different result. When the samples were sent back to Dookhan, she allegedly tampered with them to make them match her inaccurate results.
Dookhan worked for the Department of Public Health from 2003 until she resigned under pressure in March. She was the lab’s most productive chemist before she breached the chain of custody in June 2011 by removing 90 samples from the lab’s evidence room without signing them out.
She continued to work in the lab after the protocol violation, though she was barred from doing actual testing. And she continued to testify in cases almost until the day she was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 21.
Patrick has already removed the lab managers and supervisors who failed to stop Dookhan, but it is unlikely, officials familiar with Coakley’s investigation said, that other lab employees will face criminal charges in the scandal.
Prosecutors, defense lawyers, and state officials believe her actions may have undermined tens of thousands of cases that were prosecuted during her career, imposing an enormous cost to review and potentially retry many of the cases. Prosecutors, the Committee on Public Counsel Services, municipal governments, and social service agencies have already requested millions of dollars to deal with increased caseloads, and Patrick has requested $30 million to manage the crisis.
Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said last week that159 defendants statewide had been released to the streets so far in the drug lab scandal, and eight have been rearrested.
Defense lawyers Monday said the consequences of Dookhan’s actions are still not fully known. “She thinks she hasn’t hurt anybody,” said Bernard Grossberg, who represents several defendants whose drugs were tested by Dookhan.
“The damage she has done is incalculable,” Grossberg said. “She has destroyed lives that probably cannot be resurrected. I don’t like to see people go to jail, but this stretches my resistance.”
Michael Tumposky, a defense lawyer with cases involving Dookhan, said the chemist did not seem to understand the gravity of the accusations, insisting even as she admitted that she “screwed up” that she never meant to hurt anyone.
“There’s an irony here,” Tumposky said. “She will be prosecuted on one floor of the courthouse, while upstairs dozens and dozens of the people she helped put in jail wrongfully are trying to get themselves out.”