BOSTON (AP) - A Massachusetts chemist accused of deliberately faking test results on drug samples in criminal cases was indicted Monday on 27 charges, state Attorney General Martha Coakley said.
Annie Dookhan, 35, of Franklin, was indicted by a grand jury on 17 counts of obstruction of justice, eight counts of tampering with evidence, perjury and pretending to hold a college degree.
"We allege that Annie Dookhan tampered with drug evidence and fabricated test results on multiple occasions," state Attorney General Martha Coakley said. "Her alleged actions have sent ripple effects throughout the criminal justice system."
Dookhan's lawyer, Nicolas Gordon, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the indictment. Dookhan is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court.
Her alleged misconduct led state police to shut down a state lab used by police departments to test drugs in criminal cases.
Since the lab was closed in August, judges have released about 200 defendants from prison and put their cases on hold while their lawyers challenge their convictions. Many more cases could be affected because authorities have said Dookhan tested more than 60,000 samples involving 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the lab.
Dookhan was first arrested in September on two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of pretending to hold a degree. She pleaded not guilty to the original charges and has been free on $10,000 bail. She has not publicly commented on the accusations.
During her arraignment on the original charges, Assistant Attorney General John Verner said state police learned of Dookhan's actions after a chemist at the lab said he had observed "many irregularities" in Dookhan's work.
Verner said Dookhan later acknowledged to state police that she sometimes would test only five out of 15 to 20 samples but would list them all as positive for the presence of a drug. She also allegedly acknowledged that sometimes, if a sample tested negative, she would take known cocaine from another sample and add it to the negative sample to make it test positive.
The only motive authorities have described is that Dookhan wanted to be seen as a good worker.
An assistant district attorney in Norfolk County resigned in October after it was revealed that he received sometimes-personal phone calls and emails from Dookhan, a violation of protocols.
When she was interviewed by state police in August, Dookhan said she just wanted to get the work done and never meant to hurt anyone.
"I screwed up big-time," she is quoted as saying in a summary of the interview. "I messed up bad; it's my fault. I don't want the lab to get in trouble."
Dookhan's co-workers began expressing concern about Dookhan's work habits several years ago, but her supervisors allowed her to continue working. She was by far the most productive chemist in the lab, routinely testing more than 500 samples a month, compared with the 50 to 150 tested by her co-workers.
Dookhan was suspended from lab duties after she was caught forging a colleague's initials in June 2011. She resigned in March during an internal investigation by the Department of Public Health. State police took over the lab in July as part of a state budget directive.
Coakley said an investigation by her office revealed that Dookhan allegedly tampered with evidence by altering the substances in vials being tested at the lab to cover up her alleged routine practice of "dry labbing," a term used to describe visually identifying samples instead of conducting required chemical tests.
Typically, drug samples are then sent for a second test. If the second test does not confirm the initial results, the vial is sent back to the primary chemist. Authorities allege that when samples were sent back to Dookhan, she tampered with the vials before resubmitting them to make them consistent with the inaccurate and positive results reached as a result of her "dry labbing."
Coakley said recent testing done on these samples by the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory corroborates the allegations.
She said authorities allege that Dookhan obstructed justice by falsely certifying drug analyses when she knew the results were compromised. The drug certifications were submitted in court as evidence and relied on by prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Coakley said Dookhan obstructed justice and committed perjury by falsely testifying during court proceedings that she held a master's degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts.
from Attorney General Martha Coakley's office:
A former chemist at the Hinton State Laboratory Institute was indicted today on 27 charges in connection with altering drug evidence during the testing process and obstructing justice, Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office announced today.
Annie Dookhan, 34, of Franklin, was indicted today by a Statewide Grand Jury on charges of Obstruction of Justice (17 counts), Tampering with Evidence (8 counts), Perjury, and Falsely Pretending to Hold a Degree from a College or University.
Dookhan will be arraigned on December 20 in Suffolk Superior Court. The investigation remains ongoing.
"We allege that Annie Dookhan tampered with drug evidence and fabricated test results on multiple occasions," AG Coakley said. "Her alleged actions have sent ripple effects throughout the criminal justice system. We are committed to working with all stakeholders to fix this situation and restore trust in the criminal justice system."
In July, the AG's Office began a criminal investigation into the matter after there were allegations of impropriety at the Hinton State Laboratory. Dookhan was employed as a chemist in the drug analysis unit of the Hinton State Lab in Jamaica Plain, which tested drug evidence submitted by law enforcement across the state. In her capacity as a chemist, Dookhan would analyze drug evidence and at times testify in court as to her findings.
The investigation revealed that Dookhan allegedly tampered with evidence by altering the substances in the vials that were being tested at the lab in order to cover-up her alleged practice of routinely "dry labbing" samples. "Dry labbing" is the term used for the practice of merely visually identifying samples instead of performing the required chemical test. Authorities allege that Dookhan would assemble multiple drug samples from different cases that appeared to be the same substance. She would then allegedly perform the chemical tests on a few of the samples to verify that the samples were in fact the drug she believed they were, and if those were positive, would assume all the samples were positive without performing the necessary chemical tests.
Typically, the drug samples are then sent to a second testing stage to confirm the initial results. If the second test does not confirm the initial results, the vial is sent back to the primary chemist to concentrate and resubmit. Authorities allege that when samples were sent back to Dookhan in this stage, she tampered with the vials before resubmitting them in order to make them consistent with the inaccurate and positive results reached as a result of her "dry labbing." Recent testing done on these samples by the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory corroborates these allegations. Investigators were able to retest samples because Dookhan only altered the substances while they were in the testing vials. She did not alter the original samples.
Authorities further allege that Dookhan obstructed justice by falsely certifying drug analyses, or causing others to do so, when she knew the results were compromised as a result of her "dry labbing" and tampering with evidence vials. These drug certifications were submitted in court proceedings as evidence and were relied upon by prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Authorities allege that Dookhan obstructed justice and committed perjury by falsely claiming during proceedings that she held a Master's in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts. Dookhan testified as an expert witness under oath during legal proceedings and that testimony was relied upon to establish a foundation for her credibility as a drug chemist. Further investigation revealed that she did not hold a master's from the University of Massachusetts nor was she ever enrolled as a student in master's level classes.
Authorities also allege that on another occasion Dookhan did not follow proper protocol for signing out drug samples from the evidence room, and further tampered with evidence by forging the initials of an evidence officer to cover-up her misconduct.
Dookhan was arrested on September 28 by Massachusetts State Police assigned to the AG's Office on September 28 and subsequently arraigned in Boston Municipal Court, where she entered a plea of not guilty and was released on $10,000 cash bail with conditions. She was indicted today by a Statewide Grand Jury. She is due back in Suffolk Superior Court on December 20 for arraignment.
These charges are allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
This case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Anne Kaczmarek of AG Coakley's Enterprise and Major Crimes Division and Assistant Attorney General John Verner, Chief of AG Coakley's Criminal Bureau. It is being investigated by Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney General's Office.