Monday, October 1, 2012

Chemist told Mass. police she 'messed up bad'


Chemists who worked with the woman at the center of a Massachusetts state drug lab scandal told investigators they had concerns about her work for several years, but they either convinced themselves they were invalid or reported them to supervisors who failed to intervene.

Defense attorneys say they're troubled by the latest revelations in the case, contained in a lengthy state police report compiled for the attorney general's office, which is investigating, and obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Annie Dookhan admitted to investigators that she faked drug sample results for two to three years, forged signatures and skipped proper procedures, according to the report.

Attorney Rosemary Scapicchio, who represents several defendants whose samples Dookhan handled, called for federal officials to take over the probe.

"I can't imagine she could have been this corrupt without someone noticing," she said. "The investigation needs to go deeper than Annie Dookhan to get to the point of 'How did she get away with it?'"

State police say Dookhan tested more than 60,000 drug samples submitted in the cases of about 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the Boston lab. She resigned in March amid an internal investigation by the Department of Public Health. A handful of defendants have already been released or had their sentences suspended, and the state has created a central office to examine cases Dookhan was involved with and figure out how to deal with them.

After state police took over the lab in July as part of a state budget directive, they said they discovered her violations were much more extensive than previously believed and went beyond sloppiness into deliberate evidence mishandling.

Supervisors suspended Dookhan's lab duties in June 2011, when she was caught forging a colleague's initials on paperwork after taking 90 drug samples from evidence, according to police. But she told police later she disobeyed orders and continued to access an evidence database and give law enforcement officials information on their cases.

On Aug. 30, Gov. Deval Patrick ordered state police to close the lab.

That day, a police lieutenant spoke with Dookhan to tell her she should get an attorney because she could face criminal charges.

Dookhan cried on the phone. She said she was involved in a long divorce from her husband, didn't have money and didn't know any lawyers.

Anne Goldbach from Committee for Public Counsel Services, which oversees legal representation for indigents, said the interviews included in the police report show the problems at the now-closed Hinton State Laboratory are more troubling than originally believed. She said it appears there was unsupervised access to the evidence office and safe.

Goldbach said because Dookhan was in charge of quality control equipment, other chemists could have gotten false test results without knowing it.

"It calls into question all the testing done by the lab," she said.

Attorney John T. Martin said Wednesday that he noticed a pattern of suspicious behavior from Dookhan while looking over his clients' cases.

He said in four cases, Dookhan determined the weight of the drug sample was just 1 gram above the amount needed for a more serious penalty even though police reports made the seizure seem smaller.

Concerns from Dookhan's colleagues prompted two supervisors to audit her work in 2010, but they just looked at paperwork and didn't retest drug samples.

Things started to unravel in spring 2011 with the forging incident. A colleague told police it was "almost like Dookhan wanted to get caught."

One lab supervisor told police later that he believed Dookhan had a mental breakdown.

Dookhan told investigators several times in an August interview that she knew she had done wrong.

"I screwed up big time," she said, according to the report from investigators for Attorney General Martha Coakley's office. "I messed up bad. It's my fault. I don't want the lab to get in trouble."

Authorities haven't filed charges against Dookhan or commented on her possible motives as their probe continues. Dookhan hasn't responded to repeated requests for comment.

In the Aug. 28 interview with two investigators at her home, Dookhan first denied doing anything wrong when she analyzed drug samples.

She changed her story after they confronted her with a retest of a suspected cocaine sample that came back negative after Dookhan identified it as the narcotic. Police also told her the number of samples she reported analyzing was too high and she couldn't have completed all the tests.

The report shows Dookhan then admitted identifying drug samples by looking at them instead of testing them, called dry labbing.

She said she tested about five out of 25 samples she got from evidence, after routinely getting a large number of samples from different cases out of the evidence room. She also told investigators that she contaminated samples a few times to get more work finished but that no one asked her to do anything improper.

"I intentionally turned a negative sample into a positive a few times," Dookhan said in a signed statement she gave police.

Dookhan also told investigators she routinely skirted proper procedures by looking up data for assistant district attorneys who called her directly.

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