The Associated Press

Former State Drug Lab Chemist Is Arrested

Annie Dookhan, center, is escorted to a cruiser outside her home in Franklin, Mass. on Friday. (AP)

Annie Dookhan, center, is escorted to a cruiser outside her home in Franklin, Mass. on Friday. (AP)

BOSTON — A Massachusetts chemist accused of faking drug test results now finds herself in the same position as the accused drug dealers she testified against: charged with a crime and facing years in prison.

Annie Dookhan, 34, of Franklin, was arrested Friday in a burgeoning investigation that has already led to the shutdown of a state drug lab, the resignation of the state’s public health commissioner and the potential upending of thousands of criminal cases.

“Annie Dookhan’s alleged actions corrupted the integrity of the entire criminal justice system,” state Attorney General Martha Coakley said during a news conference after Dookhan’s arrest. “There are many victims as a result of this.”

Dookhan faces more than 20 years in prison on charges of obstruction of justice and falsely pretending to hold a degree form a college or university.

Dookhan’s alleged mishandling of drug samples prompted the shutdown of the Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Boston last month.

Annie Dookhan in court during her arraignment in Boston Municipal Court on Friday. (AP)

Annie Dookhan in court during her arraignment in Boston Municipal Court on Friday. (AP)

State police say Dookhan tested more than 60,000 drug samples involving 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the lab. Defense lawyers and prosecutors are scrambling to figure out how to deal with the fallout.

Since the lab closed, more than a dozen drug defendants are back on the street while their attorneys challenge the charges based on Dookhan’s misconduct.

Many more defendants are expected to be released. Authorities say more than 1,100 inmates are currently serving time in cases in which Dookhan was the primary or secondary chemist.

During Dookhan’s arraignment in Boston Municipal Court, Assistant Attorney General John Verner called the charges against Dookhan “preliminary” and said a “much broader” investigation is being conducted.

Verner said state police learned of Dookhan’s alleged actions in July after they interviewed a chemist at the lab who said he had observed “many irregularities” in Dookhan’s work.

Verner said Dookhan later acknowledged to state police that she sometimes would take 15 to 25 samples and instead of testing them all, she would test only five of them, then list them all as positive. She said 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 for cocaine, Verner said.

Dookhan was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice, a felony count that carries up to 10 years in prison, and pretending to hold a degree, a misdemeanor punishable by as much as a year in jail.

She pleaded not guilty and was later released on $10,000 bail. She was ordered to turn over her passport, submit to GPS monitoring, and not have contact with any former or current employees of the lab. Family members and Dookhan’s attorney declined to comment after the brief hearing. Her next court date is Dec. 3.

The obstruction charges accuse Dookhan of lying about drug samples she analyzed at the lab in March 2011 for a Suffolk County case, and for testifying under oath in August 2010 that she had a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts, Coakley said.

In one of the cases, Boston police had tested a substance as negative for cocaine, but when Dookhan tested it, she reported it as positive. Investigators later re-tested the sample and it came back negative, Verner said.

The only motive authorities have found so far is that Dookhan wanted to be seen as a good worker, Coakley said.

“Her actions totally turned the system on its head,” Coakley said.

According to a state police report 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. “I messed up bad; it’s my fault. I don’t want the lab to get in trouble.”

Dookhan’s supervisors have faced harsh criticism for not removing her from lab duties after suspicions about her were first raised by her co-workers and for not alerting prosecutors and police. However, Coakley said there is no indication so far of criminal activity by anyone else at the lab.

Co-workers began expressing concern about Dookhan’s work habits several years ago, but her supervisors allowed her to continue working. Dookhan was the most productive chemist in the lab, routinely testing more than 500 samples a month, while others tested between 50 and 150.

One co-worker told state police he never saw Dookhan in front of a microscope. A lab employee saw Dookhan weighing drug samples without doing a balance check on her scale.

In an interview with state police late last month, Dookhan allegedly admitted faking test results for two to three years. She told police she identified some drug samples as narcotics simply by looking at them instead of testing them, a process known as “dry labbing.” She also said she forged the initials of colleagues and deliberately turned a negative sample into a positive for narcotics a few times.

Defense attorneys for drug suspects were not surprised by Dookhan’s arrest.

“I hope the system isn’t treating the evidence against her the way she treated the evidence against several thousand defendants,” said attorney John T. Martin, who has a client who was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea based on concerns over Dookhan’s work.

Dookhan was suspended from lab duties after getting caught forging a colleague’s initials on paperwork in June 2011. She resigned in March as the Department of Public Health investigated. The lab was run by the department until July 1, when state police took over as part of a state budget directive.

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  • Simmons100

    How come nobody is focused on how she could have done this in a properly run laboratory with “blind” test sampling and other routine quality control procedures, not to mention duplicate signature control. Did nobody in authority have SOPs in place to protect against errors, let alone fraud?? 

    • Just ’cause.

       Because everyone is too busy wondering how many lives have been destroyed by this person, and how we can get these people out of prison and into new trials as soon as possible. My only thoughts about typical justice system protocol that allows this type of miscarriage come after the poor victims of this woman.

    • Call_Me_Missouri

      The lab has been closed and there’s been a shake up in Management.  So it is clear that people are taking the responsibility for not having SOP’s in place.  Perhaps the news staff figure you already get the idea that there were no SOP’s in place since they have been reporting for weeks now what happened and who’s been fired and who’s resigned?

      What bothers me more is the lack of discussion about what motive Annie had in doing this in the first place.  I find it impossible to believe that she was 100% self-motivated to do this.  And it is clear that to have a discussion about motive would require a harder look into the relationships the lab had with outside forces (ie the Police, DA Office, and local politicians).  And God forbid the light shine on them.

  • Mary

    How did she get her job in the first place?? seems to me she never should have been there to begin with.

  • Ann Marie Joyce

    Ditto Simmons100′s comment.  Where in the world is the accountability of the managers responsible for this lab?  Obviously, they had a troublesome employee who probably had no business being in the job in the first place, but what measures were established by management to ensure that all work that left that lab was accurate and correct.  When I worked as a  manager in a Fortune 500 company, you took the heat for anything that went wrong in your department.  It is ludicrous to lay this all at the feet of a lowly chemist who sent off many signals that she was not functioning in the job. The supervisory and mangement team should be at least fired for gross incompetence.

  • gardenia

    Is this revolting female criminal part of some Islamic terrorist group?  She does look like a foreign trouble maker.  Does anyone here in Massachusetts know her?  Was this a sort of revenge plot.  Has she no shame?  A life sentence in prison should be her punishment.

  • cheche

    This bitch should be put under the jail!!!!  Hardworking people like myself would never get the chance to have a job like hers.  More importantly think of all the dregs of society who get a free pass and come out to rape and kill innocent people.  SMDH

    • haloguy628

      I have bigger problem with her causing innocent people to be convicted and locked up in prison.

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