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The Chemists and the Cover-Up

Sloppy forensics, drug skimming, and prosecutorial misconduct forced Massachusetts to throw out 47,000 convictions.

"Tried to resist using @ work, but ended up failing," the forensic chemist scribbled on a diary worksheet she kept as part of her substance abuse therapy. "Going to use phentermine," she wrote on another, "but when I went to take it, I saw how little (v. little) there is left = ended up not using."

The chemist, Sonja Farak, worked at the state drug lab in Amherst, Massachusetts, for more than eight years. Her notes record on-the-job drug use ranging from small nips of the lab's baseline standard stock of the stimulant phentermine to stealing crack not only from her own samples but from colleagues' as well. On another worksheet chronicling her struggle not to use, she described 12 of the next 13 samples assigned to her for testing as "urge-ful."

State police took these worksheets from Farak's car in January 2013, the same day they arrested her for tampering with evidence and for cocaine possession. The lead prosecutor on Farak's case knew about the diaries, as did supervisors at the state attorney general's office. And yet, despite explicit requests for this kind of evidence, state prosecutors withheld Farak's handwritten notes about her drug use, theft, and evidence tampering from defense attorneys and a judge for more than a year.

Farak's reports were central to thousands of cases, and the fact that she ran analyses while high and regularly dipped into "urge-ful" samples casts doubt on thousands of convictions. But without access to evidence showing how long Farak had been doing this, defendants with constitutional grounds for challenging their incarceration were held for months and even years longer than necessary.

Farak wasn't the first Massachusetts chemist to tamper with drug evidence. In fall 2012, just five months before her arrest, Annie Dookhan confessed to faking analyses and altering samples in the Boston testing facility where she worked.

The twin Massachusetts drug lab scandals are unprecedented in the sheer number of cases thrown out because of forensic misconduct. Between the two women, 47,000 drug convictions and guilty pleas have been dismissed in the last two years, many for misdemeanor possession. Many more are likely to follow, with the total expected to exceed 50,000.

Both scandals undercut confidence in the criminal justice system and the validity of forensic analysis. And both pose the obvious question about how chemists could behave so badly for years without detection.

This story is an effort to reconstruct what was known about Farak and Dookhan's crimes, and when, based on court filings, diaries, and interviews with the major players.

Dookhan's transgressions got more press attention: Her story broke first, she immediately confessed, and her misdeeds took place in big-city Boston rather than the western reaches of the state. But the Farak scandal is in many ways worse, since the chemist's crimes were compounded by drug abuse on the job and prosecutorial misconduct that the state's top court called "the deceptive withholding of exculpatory evidence by members of the Attorney General's office."

Thanks largely to the prosecutors' deception, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in October 2018 was forced to dismiss thousands of cases Farak may never have even touched, including every single conviction based on evidence processed at the Amherst lab from 2009 to the day of Farak's arrest in 2013. The court also dismissed all meth cases processed at the lab since Farak started in 2004. At least 11,000 cases have already been dismissed due to fallout from the scandal, with thousands more likely to come.

Because state prosecutors hid Farak's substance abuse diaries, it took far too long for the full timeline of her crimes to become public. In the aftermath, the court felt it necessary to make clear that "no prosecutor…has the authority to decline to disclose exculpatory information."

Looking back, it seems that Massachusetts law enforcement officials, reeling from the Dookhan case, simply felt they couldn't weather another full-fledged forensics scandal. Maybe fatigue made them sloppy, or perhaps they actively chose to look the other way as evidence piled up about the enormity of Farak's crimes. But why were a small handful of prosecutors allowed total control over evidence about one of the worst criminal justice failures in recent memory?

Annie Dookhan

"It was almost like Dookhan wanted to get caught," one of her former co-workers told state police in 2012.

Yet Dookhan's brazen crimes went undetected for ages. In the eight and a half years she worked at the Hinton State Laboratory in Boston, her supervisors apparently never noticed she certified samples as narcotics without actually testing them, a type of fraud called "dry-labbing." And when the tests she did run came back negative, Dookhan added controlled substances to the vials. Or she just lied about her results altogether: In one of the more ludicrous cases, she testified under oath that a chunk of cashew was crack cocaine. Even the master's degree on her résumé was fabricated.

The Hinton drug lab, operated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, appears to have been run largely on the honor system. It had no surveillance cameras, laughable security on evidence safes, and "laissez faire" management, which the state inspector general determined was the "most glaring factor that led to the Dookhan crisis."

In 2004, her first full year at the lab, Dookhan reported analyzing approximately 700 samples per month. On paper, these numbers made Dookhan the most productive chemist at Hinton; the next most productive averaged around 300 samples per month. One colleague called her the "super woman of the lab."

But another co-worker was suspicious, particularly since he "never saw Dookhan in front of a microscope."

Dookhan's output remained implausibly high even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts (2009) that defendants were entitled to cross-examine forensic chemists about their analysis. Poetically, that landmark case originated from the Hinton lab, although Dookhan didn't conduct the analysis in question.

Martha Coakley, then attorney general for the state, argued in Melendez-Diaz that a chemist's certificate contains only "neutral, objective facts." If chemists had to testify in person, Coakley warned melodramatically, misdemeanor drug prosecutions "would essentially grind to a halt."

Prosecutors nationwide pretty uniformly backed this argument, which the Supreme Court rejected in a 5–4 opinion. "Forensic evidence is not uniquely immune from the risk of manipulation," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority. "A forensic analyst responding to a request from a law enforcement official may feel pressure—or have an incentive—to alter the evidence in a manner favorable to the prosecution."

Scalia may as well have been describing Dookhan.

In a letter filed with the Supreme Court, Julianne Nassif, a lab supervisor, wrote that Hinton had "appropriate quality control" measures. This was not true, as Nassif's department later conceded. "Dookhan's consistently high testing volumes should have been a clear indication that a more thorough analysis and review of her work was needed," an internal review found.

After the Supreme Court's decision, a skeptical colleague started tracking how many microscope slides Dookhan used to test samples for cocaine. Dookhan was now spending less time at her lab bench and more time testifying in court about her results. Finding that there did not appear to be enough slides in Dookhan's discard pile to match her numbers, the colleague brought his concerns to an outside attorney, who advised he should be careful making "accusations about a young woman's career," he later told state police.

It ultimately took a blatant violation to expose Dookhan, and even then her bosses twisted themselves in knots to hold on to their "super woman."

In June 2011, Dookhan secretly took 90 samples out of an evidence locker and then forged a co-worker's initials to check them back in, a clear chain-of-custody breach. Nassif considered it a lapse in judgment, but not a disqualifying one; Nassif's boss didn't think it necessary to alert the prosecutors whose cases relied on the samples, much less the defendants.

Nassif put Dookhan on desk duty but allowed her to finish testing cases already on her plate, including some of the samples she had taken from the locker. Her access to evidence was not restricted, and she continued testifying in court.

Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick's office didn't learn about the protocol breach until December 2011. Coakley's office finally launched a criminal investigation in July 2012, more than a year after the infraction was discovered by Dookhan's supervisors.

In her initial police interview, given at her dining room table, Dookhan said she "would never falsify" results "because it's someone's life on the line." Shown results suggesting otherwise, she copped to contaminating samples "a few times" during the previous "two to three years."

She couldn't be sure which cases these were, Dookhan told investigators. This threw every sample she had ever tested into question.

State officials rushed to condemn her loudly and publicly. "Annie Dookhan's alleged actions corrupted the integrity of the criminal justice system, and there are many victims as a result of this," Coakley said at a press conference. "First, of course, are the defendants, who when charged in the criminal justice system have the right to expect that they will be given due process and there will be fair and accurate information used in any prosecution against them." Coakley assigned the case against Dookhan to Assistant Attorney General Anne Kaczmarek and her supervisor, John Verner.

The criminal prosecution wasn't the only investigation of the Dookhan scandal. Even before her arrest, the Department of Public Health had launched an internal inquiry into how such misconduct had gone undetected for such a long time.

The governor also tapped a local attorney, David Meier, to count how many individuals' cases might be tainted. Meier put the number at 40,323 defendants, though some have called that an overestimate.

Soon after Dookhan's arrest, Coakley's office asked the governor to order a broader independent probe of the Hinton lab. The defense bar had raised concerns that prosecutors might be "perceived as having a stake" in such an investigation. "It is critical that all parties have unquestioned faith in that process from the beginning so that they will have full confidence in the conclusions drawn at the end," Coakley said.

Patrick appointed the state inspector general to look into it. His report deemed Dookhan the "sole bad actor" at the lab, a finding that remains disputed in some circles.

In November 2013, Dookhan pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, tampering with evidence, and perjury.

"The gravity of the present case cannot be overstated," Kaczmarek wrote in her memo recommending a prison sentence of five to seven years. Dookhan had seeded public mistrust in the criminal justice system, which "now becomes an issue in every criminal trial for every defendant."

A judge sentenced Dookhan to three years in prison; she was granted parole in April 2016.

In a 6–1 ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court in 2017, the defense bar, led by public defenders and the Massachusetts branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), won the dismissal of almost every conviction based on Dookhan's analysis—more than 36,000 cases in all. The lone dissenting justice called the decision "too little and too late" and argued that the severity of the scandal required tossing all the cases. But absent evidence of aggravating misconduct by prosecutors or cops, the majority ruled, Dookhan's tampering alone didn't justify a blanket dismissal of every case she had touched.

When the Farak scandal erupted, that misconduct came into view.

Sonja Farak

On a Friday afternoon in January 2013, a call came in to Coakley's office: "We have another Annie Dookhan out west."

Earlier that day, a chemist at the Amherst drug lab had tracked two samples that were missing from the evidence locker to Sonja Farak's bench. They were found with their packaging sliced open and their contents apparently altered. Farak was arrested the next day, and the attorney general's office assigned the case to Anne Kaczmarek.

Farak had started taking drugs on the job within months of joining the lab. She consumed meth, crack cocaine, amphetamines, and LSD at the bench where she tested samples, in a lab bathroom, and even at courthouses where she was testifying.

The Dookhan prosecution was barely underway, a grand jury having returned indictments a few weeks earlier. Kaczmarek was now juggling two scandals on opposite sides of the state. With the Dookhan case so fresh, reporters immediately labeled Farak "the second chemist."

Officials rushed to downplay the situation in Amherst. "These drugs…were tested fairly," Coakley claimed the day after Farak's arrest. Gov. Patrick said "the most important take-home" was that "no individual's due process rights were compromised."

Such strong claims were too hasty at best, since investigators had not yet finished basic searches; three days later, police executed a warrant for a duffel bag they found stuffed behind Farak's desk. It contained substances often used to make counterfeit cocaine, including soap, baking soda, candle wax, and modeling clay, plus lab dishes, wax paper, and fragments of a crack pipe. Another three days later, state police conducted a full search of Farak's workstation, finding a vial of powder that tested positive for oxycodone, plus 11.7 grams of cocaine in a desk drawer.

Exhausted from the ongoing scandal in Boston, state officials were desperate for damage control. It's not as bad as Dookhan, they asserted and implied over and over.

It took another three years for the truth to emerge. Farak had started taking drugs on the job within months of joining the Amherst lab in 2004. She consumed meth, crack cocaine, amphetamines, and LSD at the bench where she tested samples, in a lab bathroom, and even at courthouses where she was testifying.

But unlike with Dookhan, there were no independent investigations of Farak or the Amherst lab. The governor didn't appoint the inspector general or anyone else to determine how long Farak was altering samples or running analyses while high. Instead, Coakley's office served as gatekeeper to evidence that could have untangled the scandal and freed thousands of people from prison and jail years earlier, or at least wiped their improper convictions off the books.

As Kaczmarek herself later observed, Farak essentially had "a drugstore at her disposal" from her first day at the Amherst lab. But she proceeded on the hunch that Farak only became addicted in the months before her arrest, and her colleagues stonewalled people who were skeptical of that timeline. When defense lawyers asked to see evidence for themselves, state prosecutors smeared them as pursuing a "fishing expedition."

Most of the heat for this—including formal bar complaints—has fallen on Kaczmarek and another former prosecutor, Kris Foster, who was tasked with responding to subpoenas regarding the Farak evidence. Both have since left the attorney general's office for other government positions.

Meanwhile, other top prosecutors, including Coakley, largely escaped criticism for their collective failure to hand over evidence that they were bound by constitutional mandate to share with defendants. Coakley did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

Thanks to Farak's testimony and those diary worksheets, we now know that, soon after joining the Amherst lab in 2004, Farak started skimming from the methamphetamine "standard," an undiluted oil used as a reference against which suspected meth samples are compared. Over the next four years, Farak consumed nearly all of it.

Like Hinton, the Amherst lab had no cameras. Each employee had a unique swipe card, but Farak simply used a physical key to get in after hours and on weekends. She had unrestricted access to the evidence room.

In 2009, Farak branched out to the lab's amphetamine, phentermine, and cocaine standards. She also starting dipping into police-submitted samples, a "whole other level of morality," as Farak called it during a fall 2015 special grand jury session.

"I remember actually sitting on the stand and looking at it," Farak said of her first time swiping from evidence in a trafficking case, "knowing that I had analyzed the sample and that I had then tampered with it."

She started seeing a substance abuse therapist around this time. During the next four years, she would periodically sober up and then relapse.

"That was one of the lines I had thought I would never cross: I wouldn't tamper with evidence, I wouldn't smoke crack, and then I wouldn't touch other people's work," Farak said.

She soon crossed all these lines. She started smoking crack cocaine in 2011 and was soon using it 10 to 12 times a day. She even made her own crack in the lab. In 2012, she began taking from co-workers' samples, forging intake forms and editing the lab database to cover her tracks.

A few months before her arrest, Farak's counselor recommended in-patient rehab.

"I was totally controlled by my addiction," Farak later testified. But she insisted the drugs didn't compromise her work—a belief that one judge would aptly declare "belies logic."

"Because on almost a daily basis Farak abused narcotics…there is no assurance that she was able to perform chemical analysis correctly," the judge found.

To multiple courts' amazement, her incessant drug use never caught the attention of her co-workers.

The crucial fact of her longstanding and frequent drug use also never made it into Farak's trial, much less to defendants appealing convictions predicated on her tainted analyses. As the state's top court put it, the criminal investigation into Farak was "cursory at best."

The Amherst lab had called state police when the two missing samples were noticed in 2013. Two detectives found Farak at a courthouse waiting to testify on an unrelated matter. They pulled her aside as she walked back to the courthouse from her car, where she had smoked "a fair amount of crack" during her lunch break.

At this point, Farak—unlike Dookhan—didn't admit anything. She stopped the interview when asked about crack pipes found at her bench, and state police towed her car back to barracks while they waited on a warrant.

Investigators either missed or declined opportunities to dig very deep. They never searched Farak's computer or her home. Even when she failed a post-arrest drug test—prompting the lead investigator to quip to Kaczmarek, "I hope she doesn't have a stash in her house!"—he didn't request a warrant. It was an astoundingly light touch for the second state chemist arrested in six months.

Still, the state was acquiring evidence. In Farak's car, police found a "works kit"—crack cocaine, a spatula, and copper mesh, often used as a pipe filter. There were also newspaper articles about other officials caught stealing drugs, including one with a scribbled note, "Thank god I'm not a law enforcement officer." Most important, they found seven worksheets from Farak's substance abuse therapy.

One was clearly dated November 16, 2011—a year and two months before her arrest. Another worksheet had the month and weekdays for December 2011, which police easily could have determined by cross-referencing holidays or looking up a New England Patriots game mentioned in one entry. (Conveniently, they also found a Patriots schedule from 2011 in the car.)

Officials recognized the worksheets for what they were: near-indisputable confessions. Sgt. Joseph Ballou, lead investigator for the state police, called them the most important documents from the car. He emailed them to Kaczmarek—subject: "FARAK Admissions." But when the relevant police reports were released to defense attorneys, there was no mention of the diary entries' existence, much less that they went back so far.

Kaczmarek quoted the worksheets in a memo to her supervisor, Verner, and others, summarizing that they revealed Farak's "struggle with substance abuse." But she worried they might be privileged as health information. Out of "an abundance of caution," Kaczmarek didn't present them to the grand jury that was convened to determine whether to indict Farak. When grand jury materials were eventually released to defense attorneys, then, they did not mention that these documents existed.

The attorney general's office—Kaczmarek or her supervisors—could have asked a judge to determine whether the worksheets were actually privileged, as Kaczmarek later acknowledged. If there's ever any uncertainty over "whether exculpatory information should be disclosed," the Supreme Judicial Court later wrote, "the prosecutor must file a motion for a protective order and must present the information for a judge to review."

The fact that she ran analyses while high and regularly dipped into samples casts doubt on thousands of convictions. Yet state prosecutors withheld Farak's handwritten notes about her drug use, theft, and evidence tampering from defense attorneys and a judge for more than a year.

Instead, Kaczmarek provided copies to Farak's own attorney and asked that all evidence from Farak's car, including the worksheets, be kept away from prying defense attorneys representing the thousands of people convicted of drug crimes based on Farak's work. Even as they filed numerous motions for information about how long Farak had been using drugs, the defense attorneys had no idea these worksheets existed. Local prosecutors also remained in the dark.

This might not have mattered as much if the investigators had followed the evidence that Farak had been using drugs for at least a year and almost certainly longer. If they'd kept digging, defendants might still have learned the crucial facts.

Instead, Kaczmarek proceeded as if the substance abuse was a recent development. Despite clear indications that Farak used a variety of narcotics—her worksheets mentioned phentermine, and that vial of powdered oxycodone-acetaminophen had been found at her bench—Kaczmarek also proceeded as if crack cocaine were Farak's sole drug.

"Please don't let this get more complicated than we thought," Kaczmarek replied when Ballou, the lead investigator, flagged irregularities in Farak's analysis in a case featuring pain pills. A local prosecutor also asked Ballou to look into a case Farak had tested as far back as 2005.

"If she were suffering from back injury—maybe she took some oxys?" Kaczmarek wrote back. She later called this dismissive exchange a "plea to God."

At some point, the attorney general's office stopped chasing leads entirely. It declined Farak's offer of a detailed confession in exchange for leniency, nixing the offer without even negotiating terms.

Having barely investigated her, prosecutors indicted Farak only for the samples in her possession the day she was caught. And so, when she pleaded guilty in January 2014, Farak got what one attorney called "de facto immunity." She was sentenced to 18 months in jail plus five years of probation.

Verner's "marching orders," he later testified, were to prosecute Farak with "what was in front of us, the car, things that were readily apparent. And then the bigger investigation was going to be someone else."

But unlike with Dookhan, no one launched a bigger investigation of Farak. And when defense attorneys tried to do it themselves, Coakley's office blocked their efforts.

In fall 2013, a Springfield, Massachusetts, judge convened hearings with the explicit aim of establishing "the timing and scope" of Farak's "alleged criminal conduct."

The attorney general's representative at these hearings was Assistant Attorney General Kris Foster, a recent hire. She had never quashed a subpoena before, but supervisors told her to fend off motions about Farak.

Foster's first step—per ethical obligations and office protocol—should have been to look through the evidence to see what had already been handed over. Instead, she submitted an intentionally vague letter to the judge claiming defense attorneys already had everything. Cleverly omitting pronouns, she wrote that "after reviewing" the file, "every document…has been disclosed." In court, she added that there was "no smoking gun" in the evidence.

In 2017, a different judge ruled that Foster's actions constituted a "fraud upon the court," calling the letter "deliberately misleading." He didn't buy her quibbling that there's a difference between an explicit lie and obfuscation by grammar.

Foster said that Kaczmarek told her all relevant evidence had been turned over and that her supervisor told her to write the letter, though both denied these claims. Asked for comment, Foster in January objected through an attorney that the judge never gave her an opportunity to defend herself and that his ruling left an "indelible stain on her reputation."

Without access to the diaries, the Springfield judge in 2013 found that Farak had starting stealing from samples in summer 2012. Thus, only defendants whose evidence she tested in the six-month window before her arrest could challenge their cases.

This very well could have been the end of the investigative trail but for a few stubborn defense lawyers, who appealed the ruling. A year later, in October 2014, prosecutors relented, granting access to the full evidence in Farak's case to attorney Luke Ryan. He was floored when he found the worksheets.

"It would be difficult to overstate the significance of these documents," Ryan wrote to the attorney general's office. "Whether law enforcement officials overlooked these papers or intentionally suppressed them is a question for another day."

Fallout

The four years since Ryan discovered Farak's diaries have been a bitter fight over this question of culpability—whether Kaczmarek, Foster, and their colleagues were merely careless or whether they deliberately hid crucial evidence.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2015—by which time the current state attorney general, Maura Healey, had been elected—that it was "imperative" for the government to "thoroughly investigate the timing and scope of Farak's misconduct." State prosecutors gave Farak the immunity they had declined to grant two years earlier, then asked when she started analyzing samples while high.

Her answer: more than eight years before her arrest.

Defense lawyers doubled down on challenges to every case she might have tainted—not just her own, which district attorneys ultimately agreed to dismiss, but also her co-workers', based on Farak's admission that she stole from other chemists' samples. The defense bar also demanded answers on how such crucial evidence stayed buried for so long.

"I suspect that if another entity was in the mix"—perhaps the inspector general or an independent investigator—"the Attorney General's Office would have treated the Farak case much more seriously and would have been much more reluctant to hide the ball," Ryan writes in an email. One reason that didn't happen, he says: "the determination Coakley and her team made the morning after Farak's arrest that her misconduct did not affect the due process rights of any Farak defendants." Because the attorney general had "portrayed Farak as a dedicated public servant who was apprehended immediately after crossing the line, there was also no reason…to waste resources engaging in any additional introspection."

In the only quasi-independent probe of the Farak scandal ever ordered, Attorney General Healey and a district attorney appointed two retired judges to investigate in summer 2015. Without even interviewing Foster, they determined there was "no evidence" of obstruction of justice by her, by Kaczmarek, or by any state prosecutor.

Fortunately, the courts largely ignored this shallow investigation. In June 2017, following hearings in which Kaczmarek, Foster, Verner, and others took the stand, a judge found that Kaczmarek and Foster together "piled misrepresentation upon misrepresentation to shield the mental health worksheets from disclosure."

Verner, who testified that he didn't "micromanage" Kaczmarek, escaped criticism.

The state's top court took an even harsher view, ruling in October 2018 that the attorney general's office as an institution was responsible for the prosecutorial misconduct of its former employees. The justices ordered Healey's department to cover all costs of notifying all defendants whose cases were dismissed. In a separate opinion in October 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court also ordered the state to return most court fines and probation fees to people whose cases were dismissed; one estimate puts that price tag at $10 million.

Despite such unequivocal findings of misconduct, the court removed language about Kaczmarek and Foster from notification letters to those whose cases have been dismissed, which will be sent out in early 2019.

"Thousands of defendants were kept in the dark for far too long about the government misconduct in their cases," the ACLU and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state's public defense agency, wrote in a motion. "The need to inform defendants of government misconduct does not disappear when that misconduct was committed by a government lawyer as opposed to a government chemist."

That motion was denied, and the notice letters will explain Farak's tampering without any mention of prosecutorial misconduct.

In addition to ordering the dismissal of many thousands of cases, the Supreme Judicial Court directed a committee to draft a "checklist" for prosecutors, clarifying their obligation to turn over evidence to defendants.

But a crucial issue was not before the court. Lost in the high drama of determining which individual prosecutors hid evidence was a more basic question: In scandals like these, why are decisions about evidence left to prosecutors at all?

"We shouldn't be in the position of having to be saying, 'Don't close your eyes to the duration and scope of misconduct that may affect a whole lot of cases,'" the exasperated Massachusetts chief justice told prosecutors during oral arguments.

Maybe it's not a matter of checklists or reminders that prosecutors have to keep their eyes open for improprieties. Perhaps, as criminal justice scandals inevitably emerge, we need to get more independent eyes on the evidence from the start.

Reporting for this story was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Wow. What an amazing story. Thanks. We need more of this type of reporting here at Reason.

  • Freelancelot||

    Amen!

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    Pretty sure Reason covered it back when it happened.

    The corruption all round is amazing in itself, but predictable. What is more startling to me is the sheer number of low level drug busts. 50K drug busts dismissed over 8 years -- 6000 a year. All for chemicals which are cheap and easy to make, and could be made safely even with government oversight, but would also be safe without government oversight as long as the government just left them alone.

    And because the government made them illegal, their prices are far higher then necessary. How much ancillary crime -- burglaries, murder -- occurred because of the state?

    Extrapolate to the entire country. Probably millions over that same 8 years. There's the real scandal.

  • MoreFreedom||

    The way I see it, the real scandal is that we've allowed the government to prosecute and jail people, who've done no harm to anyone else. Which just makes the harm of drug abuse much worse for not only drug users but others like the victims of burglaries and crime associated with the government created black market, and not mentioned - all the taxpayers supporting the drug war.

  • awildseaking||

    Drug use does harm others. It's a net loss to society just like any other unhealthy behavior. Naturally, that isn't an argument against the activity itself, but it is an argument against any sort of social programs that users can benefit from at the cost of others who do not use drugs or partake in other healthy behaviors.

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  • ||

    I don't know that it necessarily invalidates a lot of drug convictions. In a way, it is just another testing protocol with a human subject. She isn't going to risk stealing and using something if it doesn't do the job. Perhaps her careful notes would give a clue. Did she ever write, "Ugh, that stuff was bunk?"

  • JesseAz||

    First, it's a chain of custody argument. Second, if you read the actual article you would see they were literally writing reports without testing. Third, the drug user had material to create crack in her purse. Fourth, the article mentions them intentionally tainting tests with known drugs.

    Not sure how you get this doesn't invalidate convictions.

  • Lester224||

    It invalidates a lot of convictions.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Despite explicit requests for this kind of evidence, state prosecutors withheld Farak's handwritten notes about her drug use, theft, and evidence tampering from defense attorneys and a judge for more than a year."

    Well, now we can rest assured knowing that those state prosecutors will be indicted for their crimes and sentenced appropriately if convicted.

  • Jerryskids||

    Came here to say exactly this. Why the hell aren't these people jobless and disbarred and decertified and being fed into a woodchipper?

  • croaker||

    Blue privilege.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "In June 2017, following hearings in which Kaczmarek, Foster, Verner, and others took the stand, a judge found that Kaczmarek and Foster together "piled misrepresentation upon misrepresentation to shield the mental health worksheets from disclosure."

    Verner, who testified that he didn't "micromanage" Kaczmarek, escaped criticism.

    The state's top court took an even harsher view, ruling in October 2018 that the attorney general's office as an institution was responsible for the prosecutorial misconduct of its former employees. The justices ordered Healey's department to cover all costs of notifying all defendants whose cases were dismissed. In a separate opinion in October 2018, the Supreme Judicial Court also ordered the state to return most court fines and probation fees to people whose cases were dismissed; one estimate puts that price tag at $10 million."

    I keep looking for the part where Kaczmarek and Foster were indicted for obstruction of justice, perjury, or something, but I can't seem to find it.

    Forcing the taxpayers to cover the cost of notifying defendants (out of a different department budget) is not a "harsh" view. Prosecuting prosecutors for committing crimes and locking them up for large periods of time if they're convicted isn't even a harsh view. That should be the standard expectation.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "A judge found that Kaczmarek and Foster together "piled misrepresentation upon misrepresentation to shield the mental health worksheets from disclosure.""

    So were their cases referred to the state bar?

    They're not still allowed to practice law, are they?

    I would think any defense attorney at any time could introduce reasonable doubt in any case they're involved in.

    The defense attorney might say in closing arguments: "A judge once admonished this prosecutor for plying "misrepresentation upon misrepresentation" in regards to exculpatory evidence. It was so bad, 47,000 cases had to be dismissed! The prosecutor says he's shared all the evidence with us in this case, but how do we know he's telling the truth?"

    Once a cop has been found to have perjured himself in court, you can't use him as a reliable witness anymore. Why would it be any different with prosecutors who've been found to have withheld evidence?

  • What's that smell?||

    I believe I read that Coakley and Kaczmarek are still working for the state but were reassigned. No mention of Foster. Though I'll bet her blind loyalty has been rewarded with a "cushy" job. Interesting how almost all the major players are women, how that jive with the "FEELZ" community?

  • ||

    Coakley is one evil bitch.

  • DajjaI||

    There is a sacred firewall between law enforcement and drug addiction 'treatment'. The reason of course is that they don't want to discourage people from getting treatment. People already in treatment (whether individual or groups) would be rightly scared about what they say. Gossip spreads quickly. So investigators are loathe to cross the line and will consider therapy to be privileged. The truth, however, is that most treatment is really drug addiction indoctrination. The criminal justice system needs 'treatment' to create fodder to fill their prisons. (Anyone claiming to be a 'drug addict' is simply a lifelong liar.) Thus it's a symbiotic relationship.

    Once you start making errors, you need more drugs not to feel bad about them. This creates a vicious cycle, and likely contributed to the scale of the crime.

    Reforms will help, but can also end up backfiring in so many ways. The solution to slowly defund the system so that they are forced to prioritize on real crimes.

    Having said all that, the system in my experience is pretty fair and they definitely give you a chance to work your way out. But people are drawn back in like a moth to the flame.

    It would have been nice to hear a story of someone's life that was wrecked by a false prosecution.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Even in treatment circles you hear about people hitting "rock bottom", and everybody apparently has their own. For the worst of the worst, rock bottom is long after they've lost their families, friends, and a roof over their heads. You'll also hear in treatment circles that the hard part is after you kick the habit--then you're forced to deal with all the stuff that made you prone to use in the first place.

    I hear those narratives, and it makes me wonder about a few things:

    1) Isn't the problem really the thing that made them want to use in the first place?

    2) What is it that's different about people who hit rock bottom without ending up on the streets? What about the people who just lost their jobs because of it and decided to stop?

    3) If it isn't the drugs or alcohol that makes people willing to fall so low without hitting rock bottom, then why spend so much effort resisting that?

    Some people overdoes on opioids, end up in prison, etc., and go back to doing it again. Some people let their spouses beat them half to death and then bail them out of jail and take them back home. I'm not sure the difference between them (drugs) is bigger than the similarities, which may not be much different at all.

  • Ken Shultz||

    P.S. Among the aspects of Christianity that may have been adaptive was the idea that the creator of the universe came down to earth and suffered and sacrificed himself--just for you! There may have been a backstop there for people who wouldn't have felt like they were important otherwise. Maybe the coddling of children subsequent to Gen X is a subconscious attempt to replace that backstop. I see all the self-flagellating on the left over the selfishness of capitalism, greenhouse gasses, white privilege, etc., and it makes me wonder the same thing. Do these individuals need to be convinced that they're important, their preferences are important, their choices are important, and the quality of their lives is important? Maybe they do!

  • DajjaI||

    Losing friends and family is actually a good thing, because you've become a bad influence, and no point in dragging everyone down with you. Best to keep your distance. In my observation both in treatment and the criminal justice system, friends and family frequently betray you. For example, one woman's husband told her to ignore the calls from the bail bondsman demanding to be paid. Well needless to say she ended up in jail, and then preposterously tried to hide it from her husband because he would use it against her. And then she still complained about how he disrespected her instead of cutting him off completely. (They had 2 kids together.) Drug 'treatment' just teaches you how to blame everything on drugs, but actually it has little to do with it. The main problem is that people don't want to grow old. And why should we?

  • vek||

    I'm pretty sure in most cases it's biological. They've known being an alcoholic is seemingly genetic for a long time... I think the difference between casual users, and varying degrees of blow it cases is probably somewhere in our hard wiring, which is made by our genes.

    Why do I not have an addictive personality with drinking or drugs? Why have I had friends die from ODs? Dunno, but genes seem a probably explanation from known evidence.

  • Qsl||

    I don't think addiction even matters per se as there are far too many functional junkies. There is an oblique puritanism wrapped up into drug use. Is it so hard to understand heroin feels wonderful and people might focus on doing that as often as they can?

    Short of physical addiction/withdraw, drug use is mostly a choice. I find blaming a host of bad behavior on addition to be a copout. Another explanation is maybe you have latent asshole tendencies. The science is still out as to which is more true.

  • vek||

    True. Some people are functional druggies/drunks... But even with many of those people, it is only for so long. Eventually many drugs DO screw up your brain, and certainly your health. For illegal drugs using them too much can also make you go broke, which is why so many turn to various crimes to get money.

    It's a complicated web, but I think in many instances step one is having that addictive personality/gene. I've done some drugs in my day... Yet have none of the other issues, because I just don't feel the need to get fucked up all the time.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If there are genetic proclivities that make people more susceptible to dealing with their problems by way of substance abuse, then the issue is still those problems. Did getting drunk ever solve anybody's problem?

    It may even be cultural. I've seen it argued that . . .

    They say corporal punishment for children is highly correlated to geography--particularly the southern United States. I've seen it argued that this is largely a legacy of slavery, that corporal punishment for disobedience became highly ingrained in the culture through slavery--like soul food. If tolerance for corporal punishment becomes less prominent as you get away from areas and people whose culture was influenced by slavery, there's certainly a better argument for that than the argument that corporal punishment is somehow genetic.

    I grew up in a Protestant subculture where drinking alcohol (any alcohol) was considered shameful. There are other parts of our culture where getting drunk on a regular basis is a regular part of life. It's possible that culture may play a big role in that, along with genetics. I understand it's long been acceptable in the UK for office workers to have a pint for lunch and maybe one after work and on weekends and . . . It wouldn't surprise me if the acceptability of alcohol in the society is a huge factor.

  • librich||

    Ken, there's good science that supports the impact of both genetics and culture.

    By the way, if you have any friends with parents who came from China, ask them about corporal punishment. I have a number, and they all tell me they were flogged as kids. Part of the culture.

  • vek||

    Yeah, I don't think anybody argues it is ALL genetics... As with everything else culture and genetic predisposition play into each other.

    They're factors that can either work reinforcing each other, or fighting against each other. A "natural" drunk in a highly anti booze environment is probably less likely to ACTUALLY end up a drunk, vs one in a booze friendly culture.

    Alcoholism has been widely studied, and found to have a genetic component. Actually MANY traits are being found to have genetic components. One of the ways they test this is through adoption studies, including twin studies where they're sent to different families. SOMEHOW the kids always end up being more similar to their parents/twins than their adoptive families on traits. They've found that everything from IQ, to favorite color, to what music genres people tend to like seem to have something in the genes.

    Twins separated at birth having the same favorite color and music genres when raised in completely different environments is a trip... And also statistically way beyond random chance, so there is something there.

    That kind of data plus tons of other studies combined show that LOTS of things have genetic predispositions involved, even if nothing is a guarantee.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    I have read that typically only 1% of heroin first-timers actually go on to be addicted to the stuff. Most just never try again.

    Some people are addicted to addiction, I guess.

  • ThomasD||

    " Isn't the problem really the thing that made them want to use in the first place?"

    A strong desire to escape from yourself is not just a thing, it is pretty much the thing.

  • Qsl||

    The solution to slowly defund the system so that they are forced to prioritize on real crimes.

    Nah.

    Even in areas where tax increases/spending are determined by the populace, the standard lever by the legislature to force the issue is to make the populace miserable by funding everything except what the populace cares about, claiming shortfalls all along. Defunding will only result in more unauthorized lemonade stands being cited as "that's all they have the funds for" while people die in the street.

    Nor are spot inspections particularly useful, as the article points out, documents will be forged, and even third party accreditors aren't really savvy to how their metrics are manipulated or simply don't care. Witness how much forensic evidence has been walked back as being little more than tea leaves even though their methods were signed off on by hundreds of organizations for decades.

    In fact, the only organization I'm aware that has had even moderate success in rooting out corruption is the GAO. Take it for what its worth.

    While horrendous penalties against public servants who abuse their position should be the norm just on procedural grounds, it's not even clear that will help anything more than forcing the strengthening of the code of silence even more.

    Just nuke the whole thing from orbit.

  • DajjaI||

    You're not a libertarian, you're a socialist. Maybe try Slate or Mother Jones.

  • Rockabilly||

    Massachusetts is like totally woke!!!

    Watch live: Elizabeth Warren makes an announcement in Lawrence, Mass.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xagzv9v1PDM

  • CGN||

    WHY THE HELL DIDN'T THE SJC THROW THE OBVIOUSLY CROOKED STATE PROSECUTORS IN PRISON?!!?

  • ||

    Followed this through Howie Carr. He was the only guy doing that.

    Fascinating. Democrat corruption and incompetence is another level of astonishing in Mass.

    Not surprising a Mass. (D) like Markey lent his name to AOC's Green Deal debacle.

    Fool.

  • vek||

    Holy crap! Both of these were ridiculous, but ESPECIALLY the one who was getting high as shit all the time.

    Honestly though, why the hell would somebody doing this job want to tamper with stuff in the first place? I mean who cares? What's the gain?

    I can only think of a few things. Either seeing somebodies record, if they had access, and deciding they deserved to get fucked no matter what... Maybe just doing it to be lazy and not have to do the test, so just deciding to make them guilty or innocent without doing the work.

    Other than that I guess just pure, raw, crazy power tripping for no reason?

    At least I can understand why the one who was getting high would steal drugs, but why tamper with stuff too?

    So much crazy.

    IN OTHER NEWS: I will be applying for a job in a drug testing lab next week... I will definitely NOT be doing JUST to get endless free crack... I hear they also have decent health benefits :)

  • Bubba Jones||

    This seems backward. If she got high while snorting the evidence, it seems obvious that the defendant is guilty.

  • ||

    That was my point a while back in a nutshell, but you can't tell how a crackhead is thinking. They may have spiked an innocent sample now and then just to look good or to protect some outside dealer that was nice to them. It could be they were just so damn sloppy they were sampling everything that came into their hands and took no note of what was the real deal and what wasn't, they were already moving on. The only thing that can really stop folks like this in Massachusetts, apparently, is a nice hot dose of Fentanyl. Kinda hard for prosecutors to explain that away.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Great article. Reason has been covering this over the years but it's nice to be able to review the whole sordid mess in one piece.

  • Hank Phillips||

    1. These girls are heroines, no pun, in the war to restore individual rights. Free them and reward them.
    2. Nobody can work in court after soaking up a legal sic-pack or 3-martini lunch without obvious error. But acidheads can play guitar, sing, do math and outperform a lot of abstainers. Prohibition laws simply see to it that this information is replaced by superstitious fiction.

  • ||

    May you have your next surgery done by a surgeon who's dipping into the medicine cabinet.

  • mysmartstuffs||

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ William_Stewart_Halsted
    "
    According to an intern who once worked in Halsted's operating room, Halsted had unique techniques, operated on the patients with great confidence and often had perfect results which astonished the interns.[3] He was later called the Father of Modern Surgery.

    Throughout his professional life, he was addicted to cocaine and later also to morphine,[4][5] which were not illegal during his time.
    "

  • ThomasD||

    Look Hank, I know your schtick is to pretend to be nuts. But this is a stupid take, even for you.

    Heroes in the war to restore individual rights??? They fabricated evidence that was used to convict and incarcerate people!

    Talk about destroying the village in order to save it...

  • librich||

    Nicely done, Shawn! A really entertaining story. Where else could this happen but in a government agency?

  • LiborCon||

    "Annie Dookhan's alleged actions corrupted the integrity of the criminal justice system, and there are many victims as a result of this,"

    Legislatures that make behavior they consider immoral felonies (and the self-righteous moralists who elect them), corrupts the criminal justice system. Sending people to prison and destroying their lives for victimless crimes corrupts the criminal justice system.

    And victims? Really? You arrest and prosecute people for possessing drugs, with the intent of sending them to prison, yet it's two crooked chemists that made them victims?

    "First, of course, are the defendants, who when charged in the criminal justice system have the right to expect that they will be given due process and there will be fair and accurate information used in any prosecution against them."

    They may have the right to expect they'll be given due process, but they know they won't.

  • Frito Chews||

    It's almost like the justice monopoly in Massachusetts didn't have the right incentive to set up a laboratory with the right incentives for quality work. And then didn't have the right incentives to deal with the resulting fiaschi. Let's solve this problem by installing better people in the monopoly.

  • sxh14264||

    If you think LE and prosecutorial misconduct only happens infrequently, I have a bridge for sale. This is FAR too common. They cover for their own. couple this with defense atty incompetence and our justice system is doomed.
    Look at what is going on -- well publicized -- with SC Mueller and the FBI jack boot thugs.

  • Benitacanova||

    Unusual amount of females involved. Must be toxic femininity.

  • vek||

    They were probably mostly working on cases involving males who had been arrested, since that is who gets arrested most of the time... They were probably just BRAVELY fighting the patriarchy by getting them all thrown in jail!

  • ||

    I finally got around to reading this. Whatever became of Kaczmarek and Coakley anyway?

    That's some immoral and incompetent stuff these two pulled.

    Lemme guess. Still making a lot of money?

  • Mr. Flanders||

    I googled their names hoping that they have to live with the shame of their terrible human rights abuses... no such luck. They appear to have gotten off scott-free, just like the lawyer class usually does.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    "careful making "accusations about a young woman's career," he later told state police."

    This seems like an underrated bombshell in this story.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    This is an excellent story. Glad reason followed up with this one.

  • Mr. Flanders||

    Really good article here, thanks.

  • Mr. Flanders||

    Really good article here, thanks.

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  • Freddy the Jerk||

    Is that *the* Martha "Satanic Panic" Coakley? If so, I'm surprised neither the article nor the fine commentators mentioned the other big stain on her record.

    If it's the same person she's quite a piece of work.

  • Tionico||

    EVERY ONE of the supervisors, prosecutors, co-workers, etc that were involved in this criminal activity MUST be prosecuted criminally and civilly for the damage they have done. FORTY SEVEN THOUSAND LIVES destroyed by these two sick women and those who coveref for them.

    The root of this problem, however, has nothing to do with THESE people.. but with the government prohibitions that render the use, sale, possession, etc, of such things, which have NO direct victims, criminal activity. If $10Mn in fines, court fees, etc, were returned, now much MORE is collected statewide to punish these who have harmed no one? The only REAL criminals in this whole sorded mess are the government officials that lied, cheated, stole, falsified, and in result put nearly fifty thousand people behind bars. And the first one was released after what, three years?

    This is the same state that refuses to "give permission" for her citizens to carry with them the best protective devices available so as to defend themselves from criminal activity, the whiles perpatrating far worse than ANY who wish to lawfully carry a sidearm have done....

  • ||

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  • Langhorne Carter Bond||

    It is not a mystery why the behavior of these chemists went "unnoticed" for years. It fact, it's obvious why their behavior went unnoticed. Lets put it this way. The bit in the article about them "dry labeling" drug samples is complete BS. They were being told to deliberately falsify the tests. That's the real reason reason why the state of Mass has been incredibly slow to "punish" these lab techs. These techs know the skeletons in the closet of a huge number of big time politicians, lawyers, judges etc who once worked in the DA's office when they were young and on the way to greater things.

    This is the truth about these two lab techs just like it has been the truth of what really happened in similar scandals in crime labs all over this country. The exact same thing was done by a lab tech in the San Francisco forensic lab when Kamala Harris was DA. People were both puzzled and shocked that authorities kept refusing to do anything to punish the lab tech in that case. Guess why? She knew enough secrets to bring down an army of California hot shots.

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