In a revelation raising new questions about the scope and thoroughness of the state’s response to the Hinton drug lab scandal, the inspector general’s office has acknowledged it never investigated the work of a drug-abusing chemist who processed even more lab tests than her prolific disgraced co-worker, Annie Dookhan.
Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha’s office didn’t probe the conduct of chemist Sonja Farak at the William A. Hinton state laboratory in Jamaica Plain even though — amid its sweeping, $6.2 million probe into lab wrongdoing — Farak was arrested in 2013 and convicted the following year for stealing drug evidence at the state lab in Amherst, where she went to work after leaving Hinton in 2004.
The new revelation was included in a Sept. 5 filing with the Supreme Judicial Court in a pending heroin possession case when Special Assistant Attorney General Julia Bell Andrus, who is representing Cunha’s office in the case, said the agency “did not conduct an in-depth investigation specifically into the actions of Farak or any other individual” at Hinton.
State records from 2003 and 2004, when Dookhan and Farak both worked at the Hinton lab, indicate Farak’s testing regularly outpaced that of Dookhan, whose drug tampering resulted in her conviction in 2013 and approximately 20,000 criminal cases being dismissed.
The Middlesex district attorney’s office and the inspector general’s office are fighting a lower court order mandating that the DA scrutinize the IG’s massive investigative file to determine if it contains exculpatory evidence for the defendant in the heroin case, Eugene Sutton.
The inspector general’s office said in March 2014 that it had done an “exhaustive” review of work at the Hinton lab that included examining all management and operations to determine if any “chemists, supervisors or managers . . . committed any” misconduct that impacted the reliability of drug testing at the lab. The probe, spanning from 2002 to 2012, resulted in a 121-page report finding that Dookhan was the “sole bad actor” at the lab.
But Farak also worked at the Hinton lab, from 2002 to August 2004, when she transferred to Amherst. She is referenced in a single footnote in the inspector general’s report, which states she was arrested in January 2013 for stealing drugs from the Amherst lab.
Farak tested as many as 11,000 samples from Boston-area cases, which were handled by the Hinton lab, regularly surpassing Dookhan’s numbers, according to state records and interviews with lawyers representing drug lab defendants.
“Sonja Farak was Annie Dookhan before Annie Dookhan was,” said attorney Luke Ryan, who represents defendants whose evidence was tested by Farak at the Amherst lab, in an interview late last week.
The inspector general’s office declined requests last week for an interview.
“We can’t comment on pending litigation,” said IG spokeswoman Ellen Silberman.
But the inspector general’s office states in the Sept. 5 filing that it made a good-faith effort to identify select documents relating to Sutton’s in its files and turned them over to the district attorney, who then provided them to him and his lawyer, pursuant to discovery rules.
“The ‘unique circumstances’ of Farak’s misconduct at the Amherst Lab cited by the motion judge do not justify the complete departure from established criminal procedures,” Andrus wrote for the inspector general’s office in the court records.
The September filing also says that it is not the inspector general’s job to investigate specific people, in an apparent conflict with the office’s 2014 vow to determine if anyone at the lab had committed any misconduct that would affect the drug tests.
Sutton, now serving time for a parole violation, was convicted in a case involving drugs tested by Farak at the Hinton lab in 2004. He moved to vacate his conviction in 2018, claiming the test results are unreliable, and has been in a prolonged discovery fight with the inspector general’s and district attorney’s offices, leading to the lastest filings in the SJC.
His attorney, James P. McKenna, accused the inspector general’s office of “egregious misconduct” by leading the public to believe that his office had thoroughly investigated the Hinton lab in its 2014 report.
“They misled everyone by saying they did a top-to-bottom review of the lab,” McKenna said in an interview last week.
But, he said, “They had no interest in people knowing how bad it was.”
The failure of the inspector general’s office to investigate, he said, should result in all Farak tests at Hinton being thrown out. That would mean thousands of additional charges would be dismissed in addition to the approximately 47,000 drug charges already dismissed between Dookhan’s testing at the Hinton lab and Farak’s work in Amherst.
Ryan said state Department of Public Health records from July 2003 through July 2004 showed the high volume of Farak’s work at Hinton and bore further scrutiny.
“I don’t know if [the inspector general] just looked at the end-of-the-year totals,” Ryan said. “But if they had really drilled down a bit, they would have seen that during that 13-month period there was nothing like that” from Dookhan.
“Dookhan didn’t approach the numbers that Sonja Farak put out,” Ryan said.
Attorney Christopher Post, who is contesting another conviction based on Farak’s work, said the number of drugs she analyzed should have been “a red flag” for the inspector general office investigators since in March 2004 alone, she analyzed more drugs than anyone else in the history of the lab.
“It’s hard to see how they couldn’t have spotted it,” Post said. “Farak’s numbers should have popped out for the same reason as Dookhan’s.”
The admission by the inspector general’s office about its failure to investigate came in an escalating discovery battle in Sutton’s case. Earlier this year, Superior Court Judge Michael D. Ricciuti threatened both the IG and DA with sanctions if they did not cooperate with his orders in the case.
The district attorney’s office says Ricciuti is abusing his power by ordering it to do a document-by-document review of the inspector general’s investigation given the DA’s limited resources. Instead, it wants Sutton’s lawyer to have access to the entire file to search for exculpatory evidence.
The inspector general’s office, which generated 63 file boxes of paper records and 22.3 gigabytes of electronic data over the course of its probe, according to its memorandum, maintains its file is confidential by state law and Ricciuti has erred by finding the IG is part of the DA’s prosecution team in the Sutton case and now subject to rules of discovery.