New details in lab scandal
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
The husband of disgraced chemist Annie Dookhan warned a prosecutor that his wife was a chronic liar in ominous text messages nearly two years before she was finally caught improperly removing drug evidence from a state lab, according to new State Police documents obtained by the Globe.
Surren Dookhan has not spoken publicly about his wife’s free fall from prolific chemist to the defendant at the heart of the biggest law enforcement scandal in recent Massachusetts history.
But former assistant Norfolk district attorney George Papachristos told police that Dookhan’s husband contacted him in August 2009 after he befriended Annie Dookhan.
“This is Annie’s husband do not believe her, she’s a liar, she’s always lying,” Surren Dookhan texted to the prosecutor, according to an interview Papachristos gave to State Police on Oct. 3, 2012. “She is looking for sympathy and attention.”
Surren Dookhan’s warning did not prevent Papachristos from continuing a friendly, sometimes personal correspondence with Annie Dookhan that ultimately forced him to resign his position when their e-mail exchanges became public late last year. Dookhan has been indicted on 27 counts of obstructing justice and altering drug evidence, casting doubt on the reliability of her work in thousands of cases.
The Papachristos interview is among of a raft of new documents obtained by the Globe that show both the depths of Dookhan’s deception and the ineffectiveness of her bosses at the Jamaica Plain lab. For example, Dookhan had a key to the evidence safe for six months after she was caught improperly removing 90 drug samples in June 2011.
The State Police documents provide new details on Dookhan’s alleged misconduct in three of the six cases in which she faces charges for certifying that a sample contained illegal drugs when it did not.
In one 2010 Boston case, Dookhan certified that a sample taken from Miguel Vasquez contained cocaine when re-testing showed the substance was inositol, which is often sold as a dietary supplement at natural food stores.
In two other Boston cases, the documents show defendants Paul Flannelly and Stephen Goudreau were prosecuted for drug possession based on evidence that contained no illegal drugs.
Already, prosecutors have released at least 159 defendants who were convicted based on drug analyses by Dookhan, who cultivated close relationships with prosecutors, even telling one that she saw her job as getting drug dealers “off the street.”
The new documents include a State Police interview with the former director of the Hinton Lab in Jamaica Plain, Dr. Linda Han, in which she said she had a few suspicions about Dookhan before June 2011 when she learned that Dookhan had violated lab protocol by removing drug samples from the safe.
In the Nov. 19 interview, Han said she did ask why other chemists in the lab were not able to analyze as many drug samples as Dookhan.
But she said Dookhan’s direct supervisor, Julie Nassif, answered that some samples were more complicated than others and chemists often had other duties besides testing.
“It never occurred to Dr. Han that Annie Dookhan was doing too many cases,” the investigators said in their report.
Dookhan has since admitted to investigators that she was able to keep up the pace in part by “dry-labbing” many samples, which means she falsely certified she tested samples when she had merely made a visual examination.
Han said she did consider whether Dookhan’s improper removal of drug samples from the safe had compromised the overall integrity of the testing. But she said Nassif told her there was not a problem. Dookhan was taken off testing but still kept the key to the evidence lockup.
Even when Han learned that Dookhan had forged colleagues’ initials on multiple documents, Han continued to waver on what to do with Dookhan, according to the report.
Eventually, Han relayed the situation to labor relations, telling an official in that office she thought the matter was a “simple disciplinary issue.” The official told her it was serious and should “go up the chain.”
Han briefed Commissioner John Auerbach about Dookhan in her office in December 2011. An internal investigation was launched soon afterward, and Dookhan was placed on administrative leave. When Han discovered in early 2012 that Dookhan also had falsified her resume, she considered terminating Dookhan, according to the report.
Dookhan finally resigned in March 2012, and Han and Auerbach resigned a few months later, while Nassif was terminated. Governor Deval Patrick shut down the lab in August and transferred responsibility for drug testing to the State Police.
Dookhan’s alleged misdeeds may affect tens of thousands of cases and cost taxpayers millions by the time investigations are completed.
She has pleaded not guilty to all criminal charges and remains free on $10,000 cash bail.
On Wednesday, Dookhan is scheduled to be arraigned on charges of obstruction of justice in Middlesex and Norfolk counties. In those cases, she is accused of lying in court by testifying that she had a master’s degree.
Nicolas Gordon, Dookhan’s attorney, did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment.
After Dookhan’s arraignment in December, she and her husband walked hand-in-hand past reporters and photographers, remaining silent.
But three years earlier, Annie Dookhan had told Papachristos she was having marital problems, prompting several attempts by her husband to contact Papachristos.
“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 Aug. 12, 2009. “I have to tell my bosses because it was on my work cell and he made several accusations that have no basis.”
But Papachristos told investigators that Surren Dookhan did not say anything in the texts about the possibility of Papachristos having an affair with his wife, something Papachristos has said did not happen.
Instead, Papachristos said Dookhan warned him that Annie Dookhan was “looking for sympathy or currying favor” with him.
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