Crime lab chemist Sonja Farak denies evidence, drug charges

Last modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2013

BELCHERTOWN — Sonja J. Farak, 35, of Northampton, a chemist at the now-closed Massachusetts State Crime Laboratory in Amherst, denied charges Tuesday of tampering with evidence and drug possession. Meantime, investigators continue to search for drugs missing from the lab, according to a criminal complaint.

Farak was ordered held on $5,000 cash bail at her arraignment in Eastern Hampshire District Court, where she pleaded not guilty to 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). Farak’s family posted bail and her next court date is scheduled for Feb. 22.

Farak was arrested at her home at 37 Laurel Park in Northampton on Saturday night after state police detectives assigned to the Northwestern district attorney’s office responded to a report of alleged evidence tampering at the lab in Amherst, where drugs seized by police in western and central Massachusetts are stored and analyzed. The case was quickly turned over to the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.

Attorney General Martha Coakley on Sunday said that in one instance, Farak allegedly removed a substance that had previously tested positive for cocaine and replaced it with a counterfeit substance that no longer tested positive. Investigators also allege that Farak possessed substances that appeared to be cocaine and heroin.

According to a criminal complaint, a chemist at the lab on Thursday was unable to find two drug samples that Farak had analyzed Jan. 2 and Jan. 8, both of which had tested positive for cocaine. The samples were from two separate cases in Springfield. The following morning, the chemist and a lab supervisor continued searching for the cocaine samples. A search of a cabinet and drawers in Farak’s work station turned up what appeared to be various controlled substance and paraphernalia that were stored in a way that violated lab protocols, according to the complaint. One of the substances found in a plastic sandwich bag, which is not something the lab uses to store evidence, tested positive for cocaine and weighed about 12 grams, according to the lab supervisor.

The complaint states that standard practice is for the chemists to store controlled substances in a temporary evidence locker.

Chemists at the lab also discovered a manila envelope containing the packaging for the missing evidence related to the Springfield cases. Inside was counterfeit crack cocaine, according to a lab test run Friday, the complaint states. State police arrived at the lab Friday and found an empty case envelope in an evidence locker shared by Farak that had been labeled “13.6 grams of white chunk,” and a second empty case envelope that was labeled “28.5 grams of crack cocaine,” according to investigators.

State police tracked down Farak as she waited to testify Friday in a case in Springfield District Court and interviewed her inside the courthouse. Her car was later towed from a parking garage after state police observed two manila envelopes on the dashboard marked with laboratory case numbers.

A subsequent search of Farak’s car early Saturday morning turned up cocaine and heroin as well as “numerous items of packaging used by the drug lab to store analyzed controlled substances,” according to the criminal complaint. All but one of the packages were empty, including heat-sealed clear packets.

The arraignment drew substantial news media interest in court Tuesday, which Farak’s attorney, Elaine Pourinski of Northampton, chalked up to the state drug lab scandal still unfolding in Boston.

“If we didn’t have a case in the eastern part of the state, we wouldn’t have such scrutiny in this case,” Pourinski said in court.

Farak is the second chemist charged in recent months with criminal activity in the state’s drug analysis labs. Annie Dookhan, also 35, of Franklin, had worked at the state lab in Jamaica Plain and was accused last year of faking test results. That has thrown thousands of criminal cases into question.

Coakley stressed over the weekend that Farak’s case, which remains under investigation, is markedly different from Dookhan’s case.

“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,” she said.

Assistant Attorney General Anne Kaczmarek sought to have Farak held on $10,000 cash bail, and to have her wear a tracking bracelet, surrender her passport and stay away from her co-workers at the lab at the University of Massachusetts. The lab has been shut down as a result of Farak’s alleged criminal conduct.

Judge John M. Payne Jr. agreed to all of the conditions apart from having Farak wear a tracking bracelet. He also set a lower bail, ordered Farak to report to probation weekly, and set a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.

Farak has lived in Laurel Park near the Hatfield line off Routes 5 and 10, since 2006, when she bought a home there. She earlier lived in Florence.

Pourinski submitted several letters to the judge from Farak’s immediate neighbors. One neighbor wrote that Farak was a “valued member of the Laurel Park community and I am sure that I speak for everyone concerning her,” while others in the tight-knit condominium association spoke of her willingness to help those with disabilities and elderly persons, walk people’s dogs and take care of her neighbors’ pets while they were away.

“They describe a kind-hearted woman who is actually very helpful to her neighbors,” Pourinski said

Farak’s parents, Stanley and Linda Farak of Portsmouth, R.I., were in the courtroom Tuesday as was Farak’s partner, according to Pourinski, who declined to comment on the case after leaving the courtroom. It was not entirely clear Tuesday how long Farak worked at the state lab, though a Sonja Farak did obtain a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 2000, a WPI spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.

According to WPI’s publications, Farak received the American Institute of Chemists Award her senior year and a year earlier had received one of WPI’s Crimson and Gray Awards, which recognizes “dedication, commitment and unselfishness in the enrichment of student life at WPI,” according to the institute.

Dan Crowley can be reached at


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