Second Massachusetts crime lab chemist accused of evidence tampering

Sonja Farak
AP Photo/Massachusetts Attorney General
Sonja Farak
AP Photo/Massachusetts Attorney General

(CBS/AP) NORTHAMPTON, Mass. - A chemist at a second Massachusetts state crime lab tampered with drug evidence, authorities said Sunday.

A Massachusetts chemist from another lab was accused last year of faking test results in a scandal that threw thousands of criminal cases into question.

Sonja Farak, who works at a lab in Amherst, in western Massachusetts, removed from a case file a substance that tested positive for cocaine and replaced it with one that didn't, state Attorney General Martha Coakley said over the weekend. Evidence suggests Farak stole drugs that had already been tested, prosecutors said.

Farak, of Northampton, was arrested Saturday. She also is charged with possession of heroin and cocaine.

The lab contacted state police on Friday to report a discrepancy in inventory, Coakley said at a Boston news conference. Officials do not believe Farak's tampering will undermine evidence, she said.

"On its face, the allegations against this chemist do not implicate the reliability of testing done or fairness to defendants," she said.

Last month, another chemist, Annie Dookhan, was indicated on 27 charges in a case that threatens to unravel thousands of drug convictions. Dookhan, of Franklin, resigned in March during an internal investigation by the state Department of Public Health. She has pleaded not guilty.

State police said they closed the Boston lab where she worked in August after takig over its operation and discovering the extent of her misconduct.

The accusations against Farak, unlike those against Dookhan, don't involve falsification of tests or dry labbing, the practice of visually identifying samples instead of performing required chemical testing, the attorney general said.

Farak does not have a listed phone number, and it was unclear whether she had a lawyer.

The Amherst lab has been closed temporarily, and chemists will be transferred to Sudbury, state police said.

The state's district attorneys said they were undertaking internal case reviews to determine which, if any, of their prosecutions involved Farak.

The Massachusetts District Attorneys Association said Sunday prosecutors remain committed to ensuring the rights of defendants are respected and will remain proactive in identifying possibly compromised cases and notifying defense attorneys.

The association said the fallout from the Dookhan case includes experienced prosecutors being taken out of rotation to serve on Department of Public Health task forces. It urges lawmakers to give prosecutors the resources they need to ensure "proper functioning" of the state's criminal justice system.

Farak is due to be arraigned Tuesday in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown.

Complete coverage of Massachusetts drug lab scandal on Crimesider