Hundreds Of Middlesex County Drug Cases To Be Dismissed Because Of State Lab Scandal
Nov 30, 2017 05:04PM
By Bill Gilman
Drugs and cash seized by Lawrence Police in a major bust.
The war on drugs in Massachusetts has been dealt a major setback.
The State House News Service is reporting that more than 6,000 drug cases across the state are being dismissed because evidence in the cases may have been tainted by contact with disgraced state chemist Sonja Frank.
Of that total, there are 245 cases being dismissed in Middlesex County, according to the Office of District Attorney Marian Ryan.
"The Middlesex District Attorney's Office today has formally agreed to dismiss charges in all cases relying upon alleged drug analyses performed by chemist Sonja Farak during the time that Farak worked at the Amherst laboratory," said Ryan, in a statement. "There are 238 such District Court cases and 7 Superior Court cases for a total of 245 cases in Middlesex County. Moving forward we will be working with the Supreme Judicial Court to ensure that all affected defendants are notified and their convictions are vacated."
Farak was sentenced to 18 months in prison for tampering with evidence, after pleading guilty in 2014. She admitted to investigators that she used drugs daily, while working at the State Lab in Amherst, from 2005, until she was caught and arrested in 2013. The drugs consumed by Farak, which included cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin, among others, came from the drugs seized by police in raids and arrests and brought to the lab for testing.
She also tapped into the lab's standing supply of narcotics used to test against the samples brought in by police.
In one case, she consumed a sample that tested positive and replaced it with a sample that tested negative.
She was finally caught when co-workers noticed the shortages and found chunks of crack cocaine at her desk.
Her mishandling of evidence caused lawyers in thousands of cases to petition the courts to rescind guilty pleas, set aside jury verdicts and request new trials.
Suffolk DA Dan Conley released a statement, saying he plans to drop all 134 narcotics convictions involving analyses by Farak.
"Given the nature and extent of her misconduct, re-testing the substances at issue is unlikely to yield a reliable result," said Conley, in his statement. "The most appropriate step is to notify the court that we will not pursue any further litigation in any of the identified cases."
Lawyers from the ACLU and the Committee for Public Counsel Services have stated they believe more than 6,000 cases with ties to Farak will ultimately be dismissed.
The Farak case was the second major scandal at Massachusetts State labs in recent years. In 2012, chemist Annie Dookhan, who worked at the Boston lab, was found to have been falsifying test results and reports for years. That case put in jeopardy upwards of 20,000 drug cases.