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Impact of Amherst drug lab chemist’s arrest still unclear

— Though more than a dozen people have had drug charges dismissed in Hampden County following the arrest of a former chemist for the state’s Amherst crime lab, that has so far not led to the dismissal of charges against defendants in Hampshire and Franklin counties.

Both Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan and Hampden District Attorney Mark G. Mastroianni said last month that alleged evidence tampering in the lab by chemist Sonja J. Farak would likely impact the disposition of cases in the region and could affect some past convictions.

Farak, 35, of Northampton, pleaded innocent to two counts of tampering with evidence and cocaine and heroin possession charges in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown. Authorities say the drugs involved were evidence samples in the lab. Farak was released on $5,000 bail last month and remains under a curfew. Her next court date is scheduled for April 12.

Authorities in the Northwestern District Attorney’s office said this week they could provide no information on the status of the investigation into Farak’s alleged wrongdoing in the lab. In a statement to the Gazette, Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Bucci said the case is being handled by the state Attorney General’s Office and Sullivan’s office is awaiting the results of that investigation.

“We are also awaiting word on whether Amherst will be the subject of an investigation by the inspector general,” he said, referring to the crime lab on the University of Massachusetts campus. “Until those questions are answered, we really cannot comment on this.”

Full audit

In late January, Sullivan said he had requested a full audit of all drug evidence at the Amherst lab.

Last week, Matroianni confirmed that drug charges against 14 people in Hampden County had been dismissed and cases against four others were compromised because of Farak’s involvement with handling drug evidence in those cases, according to a report in The Republican newspaper of Springfield.

The Amherst lab is where drugs seized by local and state police from central and western Massachusetts are stored and analyzed.

Attorney General Martha Coakley is prosecuting the case against Farak, whose arrest in January prompted a temporary shutdown of the Amherst lab, located at the Morrill Science Center complex at UMass.

State police had assumed control of the lab along with the William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain last July after it was revealed that another chemist, Annie Dookhan, 35, of Franklin, was allegedly faking test results.

The case against Dookhan has thrown thousands of criminal cases into question and as of last month had led to the release of nearly 200 people convicted of crimes based on Dookhan’s work.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

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