A state crime lab chemist was arrested in Northampton Saturday night on charges of evidence tampering, and possession of controlled substances. The arrest follows the indictment last month of a state chemist whose alleged evidence tampering is threatening hundreds of drug cases.
Attorney General Martha Coakley is alleging that 35-year old Sonja Farak pilfered cocaine and heroin from samples that had already been tested at the Amherst crime lab where she worked, then tried to cover her tracks by replacing what she took with counterfeit drugs.
At a press conference Sunday, Coakley said that while a motive had yet to be firmly established, Farak did not appear to be deliberately falsifying test results. She says that's a contrast with the scandal involving another state chemist, Annie Dookhan.
"These allegations do not implicate any system-wide practices that would implicate the reliability of drug certificates or would in any way, as we have seen in the allegations against Annie Dookhan, implicate the fairness of trials against defendants," Coakley said.
In December, Dookhan pleaded not guilty to charges she altered test results at the Hinton crime lab in Jamaica Plain, potentially undermining drug cases that depended on that lab's work.
State Police Colonel Timothy Alben says heightened awareness in the wake of that scandal may have helped bring the Amherst case to light before greater harm was done.
"The lessons learned here at the Hinton laboratory have been carried forward. And it is the scrutiny and the oversight that was put in place," Alben said. "At least the policies and procedures. And the fact that we had employees that brought this forward. That was not the case at Hinton."
The Amherst lab will be closed while police analyze some 750 drug samples there. The remaining three workers will be transferred to a Sudbury lab, which is already handling an overload of cases.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have called for creation of a new oversight panel for the state's crime labs.
Farak's arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday.
This article was originally published on January 20, 2013.