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DAs To Dismiss 6,000 Drug Cases Because Of Lab Chemist Misconduct

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Don Treeger (The Republican) photo pool
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   More than 6,000 drug convictions are being dismissed by prosecutors in Massachusetts because of misconduct by a former drug lab chemist.   It is the second time in Massachusetts this year that thousands of drug charges were swept away by scandal at a testing lab.

   The largest number of cases, by far, are in Hampden County, where District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announced Thursday that he will move to dismiss 4,000 convictions that occurred in district and juvenile courts where the drug evidence was handled by former state lab chemist Sonja Farak.

   " It is amazing the havoc one person's misconduct and misdeeds can wreak on a system," said Gulluni.  " As prosecutors, we must make sure everything is above board."

    Farak was arrested in 2013 for stealing drugs from the Amherst lab to feed her own addiction. She later pleaded guilty to charges including evidence tampering.

    Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said his office is seeking to dismiss “every single drug conviction” tainted by Farak in Hampshire and Franklin counties, about 1,500 cases in all.

   Sullivan said he is confident that no innocent person went to prison as a result of Farak’s misconduct.

   "In all our reviews we have not found anyone who made a claim of innocence," said Sullivan. " There is no incarceration hanging over anyone's head."

   In addition to the three counties in western Massachusetts, district attorneys in seven other counties announced plans to dismiss hundreds more drug convictions where the evidence was tested by Farak.

   However, about a 1,000 convictions that occurred in superior court in Hampden County where Farak signed the certificates of analysis for the alleged drug samples remain under review for possible re-trials according to Gulluni.

  " There are some very serious cases in the superior court where we want to be very careful about making  ( the decision to dismiss)," said Gulluni.

  The American Civil Liberties Union and others filed a lawsuit demanding that every case Farak worked on be dismissed.  The suit alleged prosecutorial misconduct by two assistant attorneys general who were found by a Hampden County judge to have withheld evidence in the case.

" We need to have some protections that scandals like this won't happen again," said Carl Williams, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts.

  He said the people who have had their cases dismissed should be notified about it in writing.

  Earlier this year, almost 22,000 drug convictions were dismissed in a separate case of misconduct at a state drug lab in eastern Massachusetts.

  Former lab chemist Annie Dookhan admitted to falsifying test results in what authorities said was a misguided attempt to help law enforcement.

  Following the scandals, the two labs operated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health were closed and the responsibility for testing evidence in drug cases was turned over to the State Police.       

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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