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Chemist in Massachusetts drug sample case lied about degree

By Brittany Brady, CNN
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Wed September 26, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Annie Dookhan's work on criminal evidence is being investigated
  • The chemist's actions call into question hundreds of convictions
  • Officials say she lied about having a master's degree when she was hired

(CNN) -- The former Massachusetts state chemist who has admitted to wrongdoing during her nine-year employment with the Department of Public Health also misled her employers when applying for the job, the department said.

Annie Dookhan, who lied and said she had a master's degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts, was hired in 2003 as a Chemist I and was reclassified as a Chemist II in 2005, the health department said.

"While neither of the positions she held required a master's degree, it is now clear that she intentionally misled the department about her education during the course of her employment," the statement said.

Massachusetts authorities will review of 1,140 people who are serving prison sentences after being convicted with evidence at least partly provided by Dookhan, whose work with criminal evidence is under investigation, according to the attorney appointed by the Massachusetts governor to lead the Department of Public Health drug lab review.

Chemist in Boston lab scandal handled 50,000 drug samples

Dookhan has admitted to wrongdoing, but Gov. Deval Patick's office said it cannot reveal any more details about her confession during the ongoing investigation. She faces possible criminal charges pending an investigation by the Attorney General's Office.

A preliminary investigation looked into every case Dookhan may have touched from 2003 until she left in March, Terrel Harris, communications director for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, said Tuesday. It is possible she touched 60,000 samples that were involved in 34,000 drug cases.

State Police and the Attorney General's office are working together to investigate each case Dookhan was involved with during her nine years with the state lab, said Kim Haberlin, the governor's press secretary.

Patrick appointed David Meier, a defense attorney and former prosecutor, to run the "central office," which is a clearinghouse for all the information connected to the 34,000 cases touched by Dookhan, Haberlin said Tuesday. Meier will collect the information to give to prosecutors and defense attorneys involved with each case.

"That's not to say their convictions were improper or wrong," Haberlin said.

On Monday, Meier presented a list of 690 people serving sentences in state prisons and 450 who are imprisoned in county jails whose trials were potentially tainted by the mishandling of drug evidence.

According to a letter from Meier to Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr., 22 of those individuals may also be facing deportation or related immigration proceedings as a result of the outcome of their trial.

David Traub, spokesperson for the Norfolk District Attorney, compared the Massachusetts judicial system to a computer destroyed by a virus. In many cases, the drug charges were clustered with others. Each case will have to be deconstructed and sentences will have to be redefined according to the results of the investigation for those in prison first, and then those who have already served their time, he said. "The layers of mess cannot be overstated."

The Norfolk District Attorney's Office supports those incarcerated who are trying to get out on bail until the investigation is finished, he said. "We don't get to argue that someone should stay in jail if the evidence is tainted against them."

Those who are in jail on other charges, such as gun possession, will not be let out, though, he said.

State police were tipped off in July by Dookhan's co-workers at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory in Jamaica Plain that Dookhan's work might be unreliable, Harris said. At the time, state police were taking over what had previously been a Department of Public Health drug laboratory, which certified random drug tests for the police departments in Norfolk, Suffolk, Middlesex and Bristol counties, as well as for Cape Cod and the islands. The takeover was part of the Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

"When they were getting ready to take over the lab, they learned through conversations with other employees who were afraid to verify the work of their colleague," Harris said. Dookhan was no longer an employee of the laboratory at the time, having left in March. Patrick ordered the lab to be shut on August 30 after the extent of Dookhan's mishandlings were realized, a representative from his office said.

Dr. Linda Han, director of the Bureau of Laboratory Sciences, resigned as a result of the investigation, while Julie Nassif, director of the analytical chemistry division, was fired. Dookhan's immediate supervisor, who has not been identified, faces disciplinary proceedings, and the governor's office said it is seeking termination there as well.

CNN's Chris Boyette contributed to this story.

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