Mass. chemist gets 3-to-5 years in drug lab scandal

A chemist at a Massachusetts drug lab who admitted faking test results in criminal cases pleaded guilty Friday to obstruction of justice, perjury and tampering with evidence in a scandal that has jeopardized thousands of convictions.

Annie Dookhan entered guilty pleas to the charges Friday morning in Suffolk Superior Court. She was then sentenced to three-to-five years in prison and taken in away in handcuffs. 

Dookhan sent the state's criminal justice system into a tailspin last year when state police shut down the state Department of Public Health lab she worked at after discovering the extent of her misconduct.

Prosecutors said Dookhan admitted "dry labbing," or testing only a fraction of a batch of samples, then listing them all as positive for illegal drugs, to "improve her productivity and burnish her reputation."

Since the lab closed in August 2012, at least 1,100 criminal cases have been dismissed or not prosecuted because of tainted evidence or other fallout from the lab's shutdown.

Prosecutors from state Attorney General Martha Coakley's office recommended a sentence of as many as seven years in prison, while Dookhan's lawyer recommended a sentence of no more than a year. Judge Carol Ball said in a written memo that she would not impose a sentence of more than three to five years if Dookhan decided to change her plea to guilty.

Dookhan's lawyer, Nicolas Gordon, argued that she made a series of tragic mistakes and that her only motivation was to be "the hardest-working and most prolific and most productive chemist."

"This is not a woman who ever set out to hurt anyone," Gordon argued during a court hearing last month.

Prosecutors, however, said Dookhan's actions had caused "egregious damage" to the criminal justice system and cost the state millions of dollars to assess the damage and mitigate the effect on thousands of people charged with drug offenses during the nine years Dookhan worked at the lab. The court system has been flooded with motions for new trials filed by defendants in drug cases.