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24,000 charges tossed because they were tainted by former Amherst lab chemist’s misconduct

Sonja Farak, left, at her 2013 arraignment.
Sonja Farak, left, at her 2013 arraignment.AP Photo/The Springfield Union News, Don Treeger/Springfield Union News via AP

More than 24,000 charges from more than 16,000 cases in Massachusetts have been dismissed because they were tainted by the misconduct of a former state drug lab chemist, according to a new report.

“The Probation Department ensured that all defendants’ records were updated to reflect the dismissals,” read the report of the special master filed Monday with the state Supreme Judicial Court.

The court had appointed a special master to help a judge in “the dismissal of certain convictions” that were tainted by former chemist Sonja Farak’s misconduct, according to the filing.

Matthew Segal, legal director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, hailed the dismissals as a “historic victory for thousands of people who were deeply harmed by our criminal legal system.” The ACLU was among those to bring a court case calling for the dismissal of convictions that were connected to Farak’s misdeeds.

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Farak, who worked at the state drug lab in Amherst, was arrested in 2013 for tampering with narcotics samples to feed her own addictions. In a statement, the ACLU said Farak had used drugs that she stole or manufactured in the Amherst lab for nearly nine years. Her behavior caused thousands to be wrongfully convicted of drug crimes based on unreliable evidence, according to the group.

The misconduct, said the ACLU, has been “compounded by prosecutorial misconduct.”

Over the summer, allegations of official misconduct were also filed against three former state prosecutors related to the scandal. The state body that investigates lawyers alleged the attorneys, two of whom currently work for government agencies, withheld evidence from defendants, district attorneys, and a judge.

Defense attorneys challenging convictions based on Farak’s lab tests found evidence of her longstanding drug use, evidence that prosecutors working under the attorney general at the time, Martha Coakley, withheld despite numerous requests and court orders.

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Last October, after years of litigation, the state’s top court ordered tens of thousands of convictions thrown out because of Farak’s tampering and the “deceptive withholding of exculpatory evidence by members of the attorney general’s office.”

Farak pleaded guilty to stealing from narcotics evidence in January 2014 and was sentenced to 18 months behind bars.

Tens of thousands more convictions were also vacated because of the misconduct of another former state chemist, Annie Dookhan, who worked at the state’s Hinton drug lab in Jamaica Plain. Dookhan’s drug lab scandal resulted in the dismissal of more than 21,000 criminal cases in 2017.

Dookhan pleaded guilty to charges stemming from her tampering with evidence while working at a state lab in 2013, and she was sentenced to serve three to five years in prison. She was paroled in 2016.


Globe correspondent Shawn Musgrave contributed to this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.