High Mass. Lab Chemist Causes Over 24,000 Drug Charges to Be Dismissed
High Massachusetts Lab Chemist Causes Thousands of Drug Cases to Be Dismissed
This past Tuesday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court filed a report saying that more than 24,000 convictions in 16,449 cases have been dismissed as a result of foul play by a former state drug lab chemist. The chemist, Sonja Farak, worked at the Amherst crime drug lab from 2004 to 2013 during which she was high almost every day. Farak pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing drugs and tampering with evidence, in addition to using crack cocaine and other drugs while analyzing evidence at the lab.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled last October that Massachusetts must dismiss all convictions based on drug evidence tested at the Amherst lab between Jan. 1, 2009 and Jan. 18, 2013, when the lab closed. The American Civil Liberties Union said the dismissals represent a “historic victory” for people wrongfully convicted of drug crimes based on unreliable evidence. Despite the widespread havoc Farak’s misconduct wreaked on the courts, the woman was only sentenced to 18 months behind bars back in 2014.
Sonja Farak: The Woman Behind the Scandal
During her arraignment in 2013, Farak admitted to investigators that she smoked crack almost every day while at work during her eight-year stint at the Massachusetts crime lab in Amherst. In addition to crack, she also took any drugs that she could get her hands on in the lab, including: meth, amphetamine, ketamine, marijuana, ecstasy, and LSD. All of the drugs were free, and often of extremely high quality, as it was Farak’s job to test the drugs for police departments in criminal cases across the state.
In addition to the samples of suspected drugs submitted by police, the Massachusetts crime lab also included “standard” samples of drugs, which could be compared to the seized samples for testing. According to the MA attorney general, Farak started consuming the Amherst Lab’s standard samples on a regular basis back in late 2004. She started out by stealing meth samples as it was the most voluminous standard in the lab and she liked the boost of energy that the drug provided. By early 2005, she began using meth every morning before work and soon increased her usage to multiple times a day.
By the beginning of 2009, Farak had nearly exhausted the lab’s entire standard of methamphetamine. This shortage of meth caused her to seek out and steal other stimulants that were available in the lab. She then continued to abuse these substances during work hours while she was testing alleged narcotics. According to a report written by Assistant Attorney General Thomas A. Caldwell, Farak maintained that her “productivity and accuracy in her testing still did not suffer and that none of her fellow employees or superiors at the lab ever noticed.”
By 2010, Farak began to take from not only the lab standards, but also the police-submitted evidence. She frequently siphoned off portions of seized powdered cocaine, which she would snort and swallow during work hours. In one case in 2012, where police in Chicopee, Mass., had seized a kilo of cocaine, Farak “took approximately 100 grams from the same and used it to manufacture base [crack] cocaine at the Amherst Lab.”
It was during this time that Farak must have realized her addiction was starting to spiral out of control because she sought out professional drug addiction treatment. However, she never attended rehab and continued her daily binges. In late of 2012, she began stealing from her co-workers’ samples as well, and manipulating the computer databases so that it was undetectable.
The Arrest and Incarceration of Sonja Farak
Farak’s five-finger discount finally ended when multiple co-workers noticed that some of their samples were missing in January of 2013. While strange, her colleagues didn’t think much of it until seeing chunks of crack at Farak’s workstation that shouldn’t have been there. Upon this discovery, the police were called to whom Farak admitted that she actively stole and used the seized drug samples while she was analyzing them. The Amherst lab was promptly shut down and Farak was arrested.
At the time of her arrest in 2013, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office said they “did not believe Farak’s alleged tampering would undermine any cases.” However, we now know that that wasn’t the case as thousands of convictions have been tossed out because of Farak’s involvement.
Although many of the drug charge defendants that were affected by Farak have already served their time prison, the conviction will be stricken from their records.