Annie Dookhan was supposed to be an independent witness, a state chemist coolly analyzing drug evidence for the court. But her e-mails over the last nine years, obtained by the Globe, vividly detail her close relationship with prosecutors, including a man to whom she poured her heart out, and her strong desire to put suspects behind bars.
Dookhan, arraigned Thursday on 15 counts of altering drug evidence and obstructing justice, viewed herself as part of the prosecution team, the e-mails show. She coached assistant district attorneys on trial strategy and told one that her goal was “getting [drug dealers] off the streets.” When Dookhan told a prosecutor that she could not testify in her case, the woman replied with an anguished: “No no no!!! I need you!!!”
The e-mails show that her close relationships extended beyond Norfolk Assistant District Attorney George Papachristos, who resigned in October after the Globe disclosed his flirtatious friendship with Dookhan. But Dookhan appeared to have a special fondness for Papachristos, even sending him copies of an e-mail in which she said she needed a man “to love me and make me laugh.”
The collection of more than 1,000 e-mails could raise new questions about the reliability of any of Dookhan’s work in the 34,000 drug cases she handled since 2003 at the state drug lab in Jamaica Plain. Dookhan’s admitted altering of test results and mishandling of evidence has already led to the release from jail of 159 drug case defendants, with many more expected to be freed.
The e-mails show Dookhan was prone to fabrications, repeatedly making up grandiose job titles for herself, such as “special agent of operations” for the FBI and other federal agencies.
She was also far from the impartial analyst her job description demanded, regularly doing favors for prosecutors while treating defense attorneys warily, asking prosecutors if she should even respond to their requests.
The correspondence also raises questions about what role prosecutors may have played in encouraging Dookhan’s alleged misconduct.
The married, 35-year-old chemist’s friendly relationship with Papachristos, 37, finally went over the line for Dookhan’s husband in 2009. Having apparently discovered the exchanges between his wife and the prosecutor, he contacted Papachristos using his wife’s phone.
“I got 8 text messages on my work cellphone from your cell, and they (sic) according to the messages, they were from your husband. He said a few things that didn’t make any sense to me,” wrote Papachristos to Dookhan on August 12, 2009. “I have to tell my bosses because it was on my work cell and he made several accusations that have no basis.”
Papachristos has denied that the two had an affair. The e-mails show they worked closely — “Glad we are on the same team,” he once wrote Dookhan — including one day in May 2010 when he told her he needed a marijuana sample to weigh at least 50 pounds so that he could charge the owners with drug trafficking.
“Any help would be greatly appreciated!” he wrote, punctuating each sentence with a long string of exclamation points. “Thank you!”
Two hours later, Dookhan responded: “OK . . . definitely Trafficking, over 80 lbs.” Papachristos thanked her profusely.
Papachristos may only have been asking for clarification and not asking Dookhan to offer an inflated weight, but investigators have charged that Dookhan was more than willing to alter drug test results to find a defendant guilty. In fact, Dookhan is facing charges that she fabricated test results for another case that Papachristos prosecuted.
Both Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey and Papachristos’s lawyer, Daniel W. O’Malley, said the prosecutor did nothing wrong and has already been cleared by the attorney general.
“George Papachristos was a dedicated and seasoned prosecutor who voluntarily met with two assistant attorneys general and two Massachusetts state troopers regarding Annie Dookhan, and he answered all of their questions,” O’Malley said. “He engaged in no wrongdoing, and he is not accused of engaging in any wrongdoing.”
Dookhan’s e-mails make it clear she was highly regarded, both by prosecutors and people inside the state drug lab in Jamaica Plain where she processed more than twice as many drug cases as anyone else.
“Some of the senior chemists are becoming full of themselves and using my name and reputation for their own advancement,” Dookhan complained in March 2011 to Debra Payton, a Norfolk County assistant district attorney.
Dookhan’s direct supervisors did little to prohibit her continued involvement in drug cases even after she was caught improperly removing drugs from the evidence storage area for 60 Norfolk County cases in June 2011.
Just before she resigned under pressure in March 2012, Dookhan was preparing to testify in upcoming drug trials, and even though she was not allowed to do any more drug tests, she still had free run of the lab.
“I have full access to anything and everything, one of the advantages, so some of the other chemists are resentful of me,” she wrote to Papachristos in November 2011.
Dookhan pleaded not guilty to 15 felony charges in Suffolk Superior Court Thursday in a case that has mushroomed into the biggest law enforcement scandal in recent Massachusetts history. The State Police have closed the lab altogether, and at least five officials responsible for oversight of the lab have resigned or been fired.
Meanwhile, the cost of the scandal threatens to top $100 million, and public safety officials fear a crime wave as one convicted drug offender after another is released. Eight have already been rearrested on new charges.
Dookhan’s attorney, Nicolas Gordon, declined to comment because he has not seen the e-mails, but he said he thinks the correspondence will prove critical in her defense. He did not elaborate.
Dookhan allegedly said to State Police last summer, “I screwed up big time.”
In e-mails, Dookhan portrayed herself as a woman proud of her extraordinary work ethic. She described taking drug analysis work with her on a family vacation to Spain in 2010 and boasted that she was usually at work long before the rest of the staff.
“I believe you are the hardest working drug chemist I have worked with,” Papachristos told her in March 2011.
Dookhan also exaggerated her credentials; she is facing one criminal charge for falsely claiming to have a master’s in chemistry in court testimony. In e-mails, Dookhan identified herself by a variety of titles, including “on-call terrorism supervisor,” for jobs authorities say she did not have.
Several prosecutors seemed to take particular delight in working with Dookhan, especially in Norfolk County. Payton called herself an Annie Dookhan “hog” because she was so eager to get Dookhan’s help analyzing drug samples. Payton addressed Dookhan and one other chemist as her “dream team!”
Allison Callahan, a Suffolk assistant district attorney, was so happy with Dookhan’s help on a big marijuana case that she promised to take her to an upscale bar to celebrate after the defendant pleaded guilty.
“Hey, Annie, you’re the best!” Callahan wrote in July 2011. “The ton of weed case pled after your testimony. I think the defense was impressed that a tiny woman could lift those bails [sic] of marijuana. I owe you drinks, Gypsy Bar:)”
But it was Dookhan’s relationship with Papachristos that proved most friendly and most problematic. From an initial e-mail meeting over a case in March 2009 — she called him Mr. Papachristos, and he asked if it was “OK if I call you Annie?” — their online friendship graduated to cards of encouragement from Dookhan and swapping stories of their shared Greek heritage.
“When you get upset and frustrated, there’s always M&Ms; at least my cure all is chocolate,” Dookhan wrote to Papachristos in June 2009. “But just know you have a friend if you need to talk or anything.”
“My problems are far less important than yours, believe me,” Papachristos wrote in August 2009 after she apparently told him about her marital problems. “Mine revolve around meeting the right girl, which up to this point hasn’t happened, and it is very frustrating.”
The e-mails suggest that the pair met in person only a handful of times, but their correspondence continued to be unusually personal long after Papachristos received threatening text messages from Dookhan’s husband, Surren Dookhan in August 2009.
They called each other nicknames — she was “kiddo,” he was “old man” — and shared dreams: Papachristos desperately wanted to be a federal agent for the FBI or the Drug Enforcement Agency and Dookhan tried to help him, to no avail.
By late 2009, Dookhan was using her maiden name, Khan, and saying she was divorced, though it is unclear if that was true. In 2012, she told State Police she was still going through a long divorce and her husband was in the house when they interviewed her.
In December 2009, Dookhan appeared to create fictitious e-mails purportedly from an assistant US attorney in which she discussed her lonely romantic life and sent copies to Papachristos. The US attorney’s name was misspelled and federal officials said the e-mails were never sent.
“We have all decided that you need a boyfriend,” read the fictitious e-mail signed by “Susanne Sullivan,” who spells her first name with a Z. “It’s been three months since your divorce.”
“Boyfriend!” shot back Dookhan, in an e-mail that included photos and was copied to Papachristos. “I just want someone to love me and make me laugh and smile.”
The following April, Papachristos received an ominous message, this one from Annie Dookhan’s e-mail account, though not necessarily written by her:
“Everything that you know about me and my personal life is a lie,” the brief e-mail read. “I have lied to you about my marriage and my husband. I will have no contact with you in the future.”
Papachristos wrote back unusually formally, seemingly aware that Annie Dookhan’s husband might be reading:
“I am not sure, nor do I want to know, why I was sent this e-mail or whether I am in the middle of possible marital discourse, but I do not want to be,” he wrote in March 2010, “I do not get involved personally with any potential or actual witnesses.”
Annie Dookhan responded stiffly, writing back that her relationship was strictly professional, as Papachristos had requested.
But exactly 44 minutes after that, Papachristos resumed his familiar tone, addressing Dookhan as “Annie!” in his next message.
Dookhan and Papachristos stayed in contact for months after she was banned from doing more drug tests, with Dookhan giving no hint of mounting trouble.