Sonja Farak of Northampton, chemist at state crime laboratory in Amherst, charged with tampering, drug possession
This undated photo provided by the Massachusetts Attorney General's office shows Sonja Farak. Farak a chemist at a state crime lab tampered with drug evidence, authorities said Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 in Massachusetts, where another chemist at a different lab was accused last year of faking test results in a scandal that threw thousands of criminal cases into question. (AP Photo/Massachusetts Attorney General) Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — A Northampton woman who is a chemist at the Massachusetts State Crime Laboratory in Amherst was arrested over the weekend for allegedly tampering with drug evidence and for possession of drugs, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced at a press conference Sunday.
The arrest of Sonja Farak, 35, at her home Saturday night marks the second time in recent months that a state chemist has been charged with criminal activity in the state’s drug analysis labs. The incident has temporarily shut down the Amherst lab at the University of Massachusetts, where drugs seized by local and state police from central and western Massachusetts are stored and analyzed.
Farak was charged with two counts of tampering with evidence, one count of possession of a class A substance (heroin) and one count of possession of a class B substance (cocaine). She was being held on $75,000 bail and is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown.
“We allege that this chemist (Farak) tampered with evidence, placing the integrity of that evidence in question,” Coakley said. “Unlike our allegations against Annie Dookhan, this did not involve dry labbing or falsification of tests. On its face, the allegations against this chemist do not implicate the reliability of testing done or fairness to defendants.”
Coakley said an investigation revealed that in one instance, it appears Farak had removed a substance from a case that had previously tested positive for cocaine and replaced it with a counterfeit substance that no longer tested positive. Evidence suggests Farak stole drugs that had already been tested, prosecutors said. Further investigation found that Farak was in possession of what appeared to be cocaine and heroin.
Dookhan, also 35, of Franklin, had worked at the state lab in Jamaica Plain and was accused last year of faking test results in a scandal that has thrown thousands of criminal cases into question.
Dookhan was indicted and pleaded not guilty last month to 27 charges related to tampering with drug evidence. Dookhan resigned in March 2012 during an internal investigation by the state Department of Public Health. State police closed the Boston lab where she worked in August after taking over its operation and discovering the extent of Dookhan’s alleged misconduct.
Farak’s alleged drug evidence tampering came to light Friday when lab personnel contacted authorities to report a discrepancy in the lab’s controlled substance inventory. State police detectives with the Northwestern district attorney’s office responded to the lab and began an investigation, notifying the attorney general of an alleged breach of lab protocols and potential criminal conduct, according to Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan. He said his office turned the investigation over to the attorney general’s office at that point.
“We are deeply disturbed that a chemist at the Amherst lab not only breached internal protocols, but also apparently engaged in criminal conduct,” Sullivan said in a statement Sunday.
Sullivan said the district attorney’s office has already begun an internal assessment of how many criminal prosecutions, both past and present, may be jeopardized by Farak’s alleged wrongdoing.
“If any cases are discovered in which the integrity of the drug evidence may have been compromised, we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that justice is done,” he said.
Three chemists and a supervisor worked in the Amherst lab and those still working in the lab will be transferred to the State Police crime lab in Sudbury, according to State Police Col. Timothy Alben. Coakley said the investigation into Farak’s work at the lab is ongoing.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.