How to Fix a Drug Scandal (2020) - full transcript

In 2013, Massachusetts State Police arrest 35-year-old crime drug lab chemist Sonja Farak for tampering with evidence: and that was only the beginning. Over time, details emerged that Farak...

These are the criminal files.

This is a vault,

where we keep any contraband drugs.

For instance, this is,
68 grams of cocaine,

seized in a, um... an arrest 14 years ago.

Thousand grams... of heroin.

And we have a control number that the, um,
State Police and the analysts use,

and it goes into a clear plastic bag
and it's heat-sealed.

This is, 2,360 bags of heroin.

Close to a kilo of cocaine.

It was analyzed by Sonja Farak.

This is assigned by Sonja Farak.

Cocaine, analyzed by Miss Farak.

Here's another one, Miss Farak.

All these are from 2004 to 2012

when, Sonja Farak was an analyst here.

A Hampshire County chemist
accused of tampering with drug evidence

pleaded not guilty
at her arraignment today.

Thirty-five-year-old Sonja Farak

was arrested on two counts
of evidence tampering

and two counts of drug possession.

If you post the bail,
you're released on a series of conditions.

You report to probation once a week.

You'll be tested for being drug-free.

After posting bail,

they said that I could drive around
to the side door to pick her up.

And, you know, a couple of officers
brought her out to the car,

and the reporters that were around...

Sonja, can you say anything
to your co-workers?

Are you embarrassed at all?

I mean, they were
completely blocking everything.

And I just told them. I said,
"Get out of my way or you're gettin' hit."

And that's when we realized

it was gonna be
a little bit more involved.

It just...

It just wasn't something
we were ready for, I guess.

When I was in law school,

it was the only thing I knew I did not
wanna do, was do criminal defense.

- Really?
- Yeah.

- What happened?
- I think what I realized is that...

the search for the truth
that happens in criminal cases

on the prosecution side

is a search for a truth
for a very narrow period of time,

and that they want to know
what happened

in the exact moment
that a crime was committed,

and they really don't care at all

about what happened to defendants
up to that moment

that, caused them to be in that
position where they made those choices.

And I realized that the work
of a criminal defense attorney

often is about the ways
in which systems fail people

and create environments
where these, choices end up happening.

So, I think because
that's a truth that is unpopular

and people don't like to hear about it,

I was just drawn to it as a way to, um...

you know, do something
that I thought was worthwhile.

How's your dad doing?

- Good.
- He still working at Squire's?

- Yep.
- Yep.

Tell him Luke Ryan said hi, all right?


I've known Luke for years,

and I knew him to be a fighter.

So good!

- My God!
- Aaaah!

We won!

And Luke and I felt the same way.

We both believed that Sonja Farak

must have been tampering
with drugs for years.

I think it was our common sense
that told us that.

Because, usually,
you don't just start with an addiction

when you're 30-some odd years old.

And Luke, he had
the same goals that I did.

That is, you know,
it's our burden to prove something here,

and we've got to do it.

We're trying to prove

that these defendants'
drug convictions should be thrown out.


I think he started using drugs
when he was 14.

He was young.

I hid it from my kids
because I didn't want them to...

to see that he had that problem.

I wanted them to see,
like, the superhero dad.


And they didn't learn about it
till he was in jail.

And he called me from jail
and he said, you know,

Sonja Farak did his evidence.

Then he said, "Call my lawyer.

Call Luke Ryan."

If the government wants
to convict a defendant,

then the government and all of its actors
have to be above reproach.

They have to exemplify
the law-abiding behavior

they demand from all of us

and they've gotta prove it.

They have to prove every element
of every offense that they charge

for which they want to find
somebody criminally responsible.

You know, if you think about
what's going on in the big picture

with drug cases,

you have people whose liberty
is being taken from them

and they're in court
and the process can't go forward

until somebody at the lab says,
"Yep. That's heroin,"

or "Yeah. That's cocaine,"
or "Yeah. That's marijuana."

So, Sonja Farak was the chemist

in Rafael Rodriguez's case back in 2010.

And after Farak's arrest,
I filed a motion for a new trial.

And Rafael got a stay of his sentence.

So he got released on bail

only while the case
against Farak was pending.

- What time did you get in?
- 6:30-ish.

Okay, and what was your purpose
of being there that early?

The investigation
kind of shed a light

on a systemic problem at the Amherst lab.

The chemists perpetually had a backlog

and were perpetually fighting to...
to keep up.

Springfield is another
of these former industrial towns

that has pretty significant poverty

and a population susceptible
to drugs like heroin,

crack cocaine and methamphetamine.

And so, Springfield functions
as a kind of Western Massachusetts capital

of illegal distribution.

The journey of a bag of heroin
would begin at its point of harvest,

the poppy fields of Afghanistan.

It gets manufactured locally,
transported to our borders,

smuggled in,
and ends up at a distribution center,

someplace like New York City.

When it arrives there,

it will receive a distinctive brand name,

so you know you've got "Sunshine" heroin.

From there,
it will make its way up Route 95,

then end up on Route 91 through Hartford

and often to a place like Springfield.

When it ends up there,

it's usually gonna
be given to local dealers.

Local dealers will then sell it,
either to smaller dealers or to users.

And then, if that person is busted,

that bag will end up
in a cruiser with the police.

It goes to the station...

At the police station,

it's typically taken
to a kind of evidence control locker.

We don't know at that point
whether it's drugs or not.

And it ends up in a lab.

In the lab, it's supposed
to be kept under lock and key.

Some chemist is assigned to it.

It's supposed to be taken out.
It's supposed to be tested.

All this is supposed
to be very well controlled

and documented, um...

And then at that point,
once there's a result, um,

a certification is produced.

A document is produced saying,

"This substance which was taken out
of that guy's pocket

on that street corner
in Springfield is heroin."

Or "It's cocaine."

And the chemists,
they're under enormous pressure

to churn out these certificates,

and the prosecutors are calling them up

saying, "Hey, we've got this case.
I'm getting hell from the judge.

The defense attorney's in court,
jumpin' up and down.

He wants his bail lowered. When
am I gonna get a drug cert for this case?"

And so that's the kind of pressure
that the analysts are under,

and it becomes a factory-type mentality.

And nobody, I think, really wanted to...

to take and professionalize
the drug testing.

They were really content to see
how cheaply it could be done

and how many samples they could churn out.

There's no cameras in the lab,

and there was no
even routine weekly inventory

of the drugs.

So whoever wants to help themselves

can open the drug fridge and get high.

And that was Sonja in early 2005.

She is getting high
with liquid methamphetamine

several times a day.

So, this bottle of liquid meth
was big enough

and bountiful enough
to get her through 2009.

And then in 2009,

her boss, Jim Hanchett,

does a perfunctory audit.

the first that anybody's done
at Amherst in many years.

And he announces
that he's going to be doing a roundup

of all the standards in the lab,

and Sonja begins to panic, um...

not just at being discovered,
but being arrested and going to prison.

I knew that the level
had gone down dramatically

because of what I had taken,

and so in my haste,
I added some water to it.

Well, oil and water don't mix very well,
so it separated.

So Hanchett opens the fridge.

He finds this bottle.

Due to the age of the sample,
he assumed that it was just breaking down

and so he got rid of it.

Sonja was someone
who desperately needed

something more
than what her life presented.

She was an anonymous person
doing this anonymous function

in an industry that no one cares about.

I started looking around
at the different standards,

hoping that there might be something
that I could take to help me.

And getting high had become
the way to reward herself.

I found that we had
a big jar of amphetamine.

And the amphetamine made me feel better,
and had the desired effects.

I don't think Sonja was a bad chemist.

You know, I think that
a lot of her actions were questionable,

but she seemed to show up every day
and do her job and do her job well.

I am not an expert on addiction,

but I don't think that being on drugs
makes you stupid automatically.

Particularly stimulants,
you know, amphetamines and the like,

which are really
somewhat performance-enhancing.

I... I'm not condoning
a drug chemist being on drugs

while they do their casework,

but I don't think it necessarily implies
that she was incapable.

I mean, she's not Annie Dookhan.

She's not falsifying data.

In Massachusetts,
there were two main drug labs

that were run by the State.

One out in Western Massachusetts,
and the other lab in Boston.

And they geographically handle
tens of thousands of cases, west and east.

So the Hinton drug lab handled
thousands of cases a year.

And Annie Dookhan was the key person

in one of the biggest
miscarriages of justice

in the history of Massachusetts.

But she was not a famous person,

and she's not somebody
who strove to be publicly known,

but she was a first-generation American

and, I mean,
like many children of immigrants,

they feel that they've got
to try harder to get ahead.

And so she was very much a... a striver.

In high school, at Boston Latin Academy,

she was hardworking, she was athletic,

she was a track star,

and she was, you know, a solid citizen.

And by all accounts,
she was a model employee

inside of the Hinton drug lab in Boston.

At a place that few people
had given any thought to

prior to this enormous scandal.

The Hinton lab, it's big. It's giant.

It's got, like,
17 different sub-labs within it,

doing everything from testing HIV

to testing drug samples.

They're processing thousands of cases
for police departments around the state.

It's one of the biggest labs, in...

in Massachusetts that tests drug samples.

And Annie Dookhan is
the superwoman of the Hinton lab.

She does more cases than anybody.

She's operating at an incredible rate,

just churning through samples.

So, if the Hinton lab wanted
to point to one of its star employees,

it was Annie Dookhan.

She sets herself apart by virtue

of her extremely high level of output.

Annie was showing up at break of dawn...

and was the last one
to turn out the lights

every night at work.

And she was quite popular
with the managers

because she was very productive

and they felt like
they were badly overworked

because the War on Drugs
had become so large.

And she moved things
through the system really, really quickly.

So she was a prized employee,

and she was sometimes envied
by the other drug chemists

because she did
such a huge volume of work.

So the first time I heard
about Annie Dookhan was in 2012.

One of the evidence techs
discovered a discrepancy.

They were concerned about
the volume of cases Annie was producing.

Probably four times the average chemist.

They couldn't understand
how she could possibly do that.

But her supervisor explained to us
that there was no longer an issue.

It was something
that they took care of internally.

But they didn't speak
to any of the chemists.

They really didn't do
any kind of investigation

as to why her cases are so high.

If I was running a crime lab
and I had someone that was doing work

four times more than someone else,

I'd bring her in and say,
"Show me how you do this,

'cause I wanna teach everybody else."

And we found out that the chemists

had been complaining
about Dookhan for years,

saying that she wasn't
balancing her scales,

she wasn't performing her quality checks.

So the supervisors were told
"Something's wrong here,"

and they failed to act.

So I asked for an investigation.

We needed to find out what had happened.

We had spoken to several of the chemists,
but we needed to hear from Dookhan.

Some officers met with her at her house.

She agreed to speak to them.

They asked her about the complaints,

and they asked how
could she do so many cases.

I think Annie liked to feel
like the go-to person.

You know, the DAs would call her directly.

She got things done.

So, everybody assumed
that she was doing the right thing.

But she broke down and cried

and confessed
to everything that she had done.

So, the detective called me,
after he spoke to Annie,

and I knew that, we were gonna
have to shut that lab down.

Stay with us. Coming up,
the Massachusetts State Police

are now detailing the possible extent
of damage at a now-closed state crime lab.

I'm Deborah Becker.

I am a reporter
for WBUR public radio station in Boston.

...this is Radio Boston...

I covered the Annie Dookhan story
and the Sonja Farak story...

pretty aggressively.

I remember when the story first broke,

they said a chemist at the lab
had mishandled some drug evidence,

and they were closing the lab.

And so as we're gathering
all of this information,

the picture of Annie Dookhan
that emerged was a very hardworking,

ambitious young woman

who wanted to succeed in chemistry.

And she thought that she would do so
by working for the state in this lab.

She was diligent
and incredibly hardworking.

She was also,

almost from the beginning
of her tenure at the Hinton crime lab,

doing something called dry-labbing.

Dry-labbing, where she didn't test at all.

She would look at something
and say that it was the drug,

heroin, cocaine, whatever.

But she didn't really test it.

So what Annie Dookhan was doing

was gathering, say, 13, 15 cases

that all looked
to be the same type of evidence.

So, maybe they all looked to be cocaine.

She's taking these cases out for analysis
all at one time,

and maybe only one of them is actually
going through the testing process

and then she's just applying those results
to the other untested cases.

It saves a lot of time.
You can do a lot more volume that way.

But sugar can look a lot like cocaine

and... and there's a reason
that you do the tests.

So, after her arrest,

we get this data and it showed us

classifications going on
that, weren't completely accurate.

For example, he finds that Annie Dookhan

certifies a substance
as being an illegal substance

when that substance was,
in fact, sodium chloride.

Table salt.

She was faking. She was cheating,

and doing no actual chemical testing
of the substance.

Um, not putting it under a microscope,

not putting it through a spectrometer.

She was simply signing off

and getting these cases out the door.

So, we start thinking,
was she part of a bigger problem?

Was it a lab problem?
Was it a prosecutorial problem?

I mean, nobody knew at that point.

The story really came out piecemeal.

First it was "This lab is closing."

Then it was "This chemist is a problem."

And then we realized
she had been there nine years,

and it got bigger and bigger.

A major breach could have
jeopardized thousands of drug cases,

all allegedly because
of this chemist, Annie Dookhan.

Annie Dookhan has been coming
and going all morning from her home.

Her family made it very clear they're
not happy with the media attention.

They put up a "No Trespassing" sign.

But if the allegations
against her prove true,

she'll have a lot more
to worry about than TV cameras.

Do you have anything to say at all
about the allegations?

- No.
- Can you tell us what happened?

There's simply no good answer.

The fact is the chemist
violated the public trust.

More personnel fallout
at the drug lab...

The head of
the Department of Public Health resigned.

Then she's arrested.

- Talk to us.
- Get off the property.

Why did she do it?

- Leave.
- Why did she do it?

- How are you doing?
- What did she say?

How are you doing?

Good afternoon.

Today's arrest is one step further towards

making sure that there is accountability
for this corruption of the system.

So, the Attorney General speaks
about the arrest of Annie Dookhan...

And as this investigation is ongoing...

...and says that she really compromised

the integrity
of the entire criminal justice system.

Miss Dookhan,
is there anything you want to say?

That Annie Dookhan was this rogue actor

who wanted to test
as many samples as possible.

This is a terrible black mark

for people that are in
the criminal justice system.

No one wants anyone to be in jail...

because of something
that went wrong in a testing procedure.

There were a lot of defendants
who were very concerned about this.

First and foremost,
people who were incarcerated

for drug tests that had been
handled by Annie Dookhan.

My perception was anything
that she touched should be tossed out.

State police have now notified
district attorneys and defense lawyers

that the chemist was involved
in testing thousands...

I was a prosecutor,
Assistant District Attorney.

I started off in the District Court level

and then I moved to the Superior Court
level, prosecuting, felonies.

I got promoted into the drug unit.
At first, it was very stressful.

You handle probably 40, 50 cases a day,

and all these cases
were submitted for lab analysis

in one lab at the time.

Thousands of cases,
all going back to the Hinton drug lab.

But I was a big government believer.

I felt like I was wearing the white hat.

And there was a letter
that was sent to the DA,

and that letter was
immediately forwarded to us.

And it said there were issues
in the drug lab

and that Annie Dookhan had participated in
misconduct in the lab in testing issues.

And one of them was a case that I handled.

So, the first thing that I did
was call the defense attorney

that we handled the case together.

And I said,
"We have to go back into court."

Ethically and constitutionally
at this point,

we feel that it is
in the best interests of justice,

that this defendant be released,

"We have to make sure
that this is corrected."

Motion to vacate the guilty plea
has been allowed.

The Superior Court judge
vacated a guilty plea

of alleged drug dealer David Danielli,

all because the evidence in the case was
handled by rogue chemist Annie Dookhan.

Everyone who's been convicted
of a crime related to drugs

in Suffolk and Norfolk counties
in the last five to six years

is possibly the victim of
a very substantial miscarriage of justice.

Formerly convicted drug dealer
David Danielli rushes off to a waiting car

moments after he's set free.

Family members say it's only fair.

Well, if the Constitution
isn't upheld for one of us,

the Constitution
is not upheld for anybody.

Well, we know at this point that
the letters that were initially sent...

And it really shook the foundation of
what I believed to be true in the system.

It gave me a heightened sense of worry

because what she had done
affected so many people.

When did you first hear
the name Annie Dookhan? Where were you?

More likely than not,
I don't have a specific memory,

but more likely than not,
I was in my office

and I received a phone call
from the Massachusetts State Police.

I was
the Suffolk County District Attorney,

which is the city of Boston, primarily,

and three small cities north of Boston.

It's the most densely-populated county,
in our state.

When we initially got word of the breach,

it had serious implications
for our past work.

There was a real question

as to whether or not
these convictions had integrity.

And if they did not,

then we were gonna either have
to re-litigate them or dismiss them.

So, we first cross-checked everybody
who was actually in custody.

They were either serving
a prison sentence,

a house of corrections sentence,

or awaiting trial based on her work.

And we looked to get those individuals

before the court
and got them out of custody.

The latest in
the Massachusetts drug lab scandal.

More cases are headed to court tomorrow.

That's right. Prisoners are asking
to be released from jail.

The idea of a crime wave
is a scary thing,

and that you're doing it
by opening the prison doors

and turning out hardened criminals.

The reality of what really did happen
wasn't quite like that.

The vast majority of the people

who were convicted
with Annie Dookhan evidence

were people that were, shall we say,
familiar to the justice system.

They were either habitual drug users

or drug distributors
of one kind or another.

And so, a lot of them
when they got back out,

they may have gone back to drugs,

but they didn't turn to violence.

So it became this
just incredibly large case

with thousands of, convictions

and guilty verdicts being questioned
because of what Annie did.

The state called her a rogue chemist.

Many people thought
that it was, sort of, her problem

more than anything else.

But, there were clearly
other problems going on here

in the criminal justice system.

Early on in the reporting process,

my colleague Andrea obtained
all of the email correspondence

from Annie to others and back to her.

And when we started to read through

what she was saying to people
and how she conducted herself,

we realized it was a much bigger story

than just one person's incompetence
or one person's bad behavior.

The emails told us
that Annie did not view herself

as a neutral party.

She viewed herself as part
of the law enforcement team.

She identified with the prosecutors.

She identified with the police.

She didn't see herself
as a neutral arbiter of the evidence.

In fact, when she was contacted

by defense attorneys
representing the accused,

she would always check
with the prosecutors or the police

as to how she should converse with them.

The email exchanges
between Annie Dookhan and the ADAs

about cases and about defendants

certainly puts the lie to the argument

that people who work in drug labs,

they're not... they're not soldiers in
the drug war, they're just scientists.

But that's not the impression you get
from Annie Dookhan's emails.

I think she saw herself
as very much on the team

and very much supporting the prosecution
that was going on in court.

We cannot get away from the fact

that the product of the crime lab
is a report and testimony,

and that product is being used
by the prosecution.

No prosecutor should be seeking me out
to specifically work on a case.

No prosecutor should be
feeding me information about a defendant,

explaining to me why it's so important
they get the result that they're seeking.

I know what result the prosecutor wants.

They need a controlled substance,

and if I don't deliver
a controlled substance,

I'm not useful to them.

That's understood.

As time went on,
we got a pretty complete picture

of what was really happening.

And we began to see in the emails

that there was something sicker
and darker going on there,

and that would include embellishing
her professional achievements.

She claimed to be going
to Harvard night school

and getting an advanced degree,

and she repeated it so often
that the people in the lab believed it

and had a celebration congratulating her
on her advanced degree...

when there was no advanced degree.

She wasn't doing anything of the kind.

So, she was willing to lie
if she could get away with it

and have people think more of her.

That seemed to be what she fed on,
was getting approval from other people.

And we certainly saw that she was close
with one particular prosecutor.

I was getting phone calls
from defense attorneys,

indicating that, um, reporters
were sneaking around the courthouses

and asking about, "Hey,
did you hear about George and Annie?"

Questions started being asked,
intimating that I had an affair with her.

And I was like,
"Where the fuck is this thing going?"

"Hi, Annie, surprise,
another case in Federal Court.

There are four more with your name
for January and February.

We've all decided
that you need a boyfriend.

You work too hard. What!

It's been three months since the divorce.

I called Julie and Betsy to find out
your schedule for next week

and we had a long conversation.

As for your schedule, they laughed."

And it's from a person
named Susanne Sullivan,

and it's addressed to Annie Khan.

That's Annie Dookhan's maiden name.

So, this is a forgery.

This is an email
that Annie Dookhan created herself

to give the impression of two things.

One, that she was divorced, right?

"Three months since the divorce."

And two, that she's highly desirable

and her co-workers think
that she needs a boyfriend.

So she makes this fraudulent document

from a person named Susanne Sullivan,
who's an attorney.

But the name is misspelled.
S-U-S-A-N-N-E should be S-U-Z-A-N-N-E.

And forwards it to George Papachristos,
the object of her affection,

so that he'll see,
one, that she's divorced,

and two, that her friends all think
she's wildly desirable

and should have a boyfriend.

But it's all fabricated, just like
her Harvard degree was fabricated,

just like a lot
of other things in her life

were just fantasy and not real.

And then she's, like, so wonderfully
sincere, she writes back to Sue.

I was hoping that people
would see that email and see that...

she was... that...

that she had an issue.

That's where I was hoping
the story would have gone

because, "Hey, guys,
we're dealing with somebody

that is writing fake emails, right?

Why are we talking about me?"

So, Annie forwarded this email
saying that she was divorced

when she's not.

But she's writing to him
in this sort of flirtatious way

where she's admitting to him
that she's unhappy in her marriage

and she's telling him personal things
about herself

and encouraging him
to be very personal back to her.

It's just very clear that she's trying
to draw closer to this guy.

But it's an inappropriate relationship,
because she's not supposed

to be conversing socially
with prosecutors at all.

What role does a chemist
play in a prosecutor's day-to-day work?

Well, normally very minimal.

I didn't work directly with the lab.

The cases were assigned
randomly through the office.

We didn't know who the chemists were.

And most of the cases plead out,
so 80% of the time,

you normally don't have any contact
with the chemists, as a prosecutor.

I would say we were friendly.
I mean, friendly through email.

I mean, I met... I met this woman once,

under... under, you know,
circumstances that were monitored.

But then our emails circulated

and they landed in the news.

It was kind of insane to me.

And the problem with those emails
was that they were put in the news

after it was discovered
what Miss Dookhan was doing.

So, without further explanation,

it seemed that I had knowledge
of what she was up to in that lab.

Is there any more to this
relationship than just email exchanges

between prosecutor and the chemist
at the heart of all of this?

Being in the news
and being talked about like that...

He work from...

And my family was in the news.

...eight o'clock in the morning
to ten o'clock at night,

even on the weekends.

I just didn't know what to do.

I had lost my sense of reality.

Everything that I'd come to know
as real and what I held...

I was...

I realized that it was gonna be
way more than I could handle.

I put in my resignation.

Being a prosecutor, that was my dream job.

I really loved it. I really enjoyed it.
That was the life I wanted.

But I couldn't imagine going back to it.

I never anticipated
becoming a defense attorney,

but that's who I am.

So now it's a totally
different experience,

and coming into a courtroom,
defending somebody,

is one of the most powerless experiences
that you can feel.

You walk into a courtroom,
you're not the prosecutor anymore.

You are coming inĀ and you're taking on
the accusation yourself.

And it's a totally, totally...

humbling experience.

So, Sonja Farak had been
arrested in January,

and now we're in March,

and so I thought,
"We're just gonna go through

and have a similar process
to what took place in the Boston area

with the Dookhan litigation
and the discovery."

And I assumed that

the AG's office
is gonna throw the book at Farak,

they're gonna investigate
the piss out of this lab,

and they're gonna want to find
everything wrong that Sonja Farak did

and gonna want to hold her
totally accountable.

The Attorney General was tasked
with figuring out what Farak had done

and which cases might be affected.

So, Luke and I,
we felt that any conviction

where she produced evidence that led
to that conviction should be thrown out.

So, I was expecting the AG's office
to go charging away at Sonja Farak

and that would help our clients,

because defendants have an absolute right

to get access
to any potentially exculpatory evidence.

There's a constitutional rule
that as a criminal defendant,

you're entitled to have the government
share with you all exculpatory evidence.

Exculpatory evidence
could be forensic evidence.

A third party's fingerprint
at a crime scene is exculpatory

if their theory is that the only person
who could have left the fingerprint

is the defendant.

Evidence that suggests
the person, is guilty of the crime

but they were,
you know, heavily intoxicated,

then that's exculpatory.

That was later expanded

to include all evidence
that would tend to show

a jury shouldn't
really believe a police officer,

shouldn't believe the cooperator,
shouldn't believe a prosecution witness.

So, it creates a very broad set of rights

as a defendant to basically be told
if the government knows things

that tend to undermine
its own prosecution.

Prosecutors have
this very strange conundrum,

because they're the parties
who get the evidence first from the cops.

Cops are charged with arresting
and then investigating crime,

and the person they send that evidence to
is the prosecutor's office.

So, the prosecutor
always gets the evidence first

and then decides
how much to share with the other side.

You're essentially asking,

in an incredibly intense
adversarial system,

one side share with the other guy

the stuff that may hurt your case
and may help him to win.

So, I mean, even the best of people,
even the best intentions

can easily go wrong
in a situation like that.

Do you think
it's difficult for people to self-police

and hand over material
that may hurt their own cases?

No, that's the oath
that you take as a prosecutor.

I mean, that's part of your job.
Somebody's got to be the gatekeeper.

I can only speak for my jurisdiction.

I mean, our prosecutors, they...
they know, just give everything over.

I mean,
unless it's a very special exception

and then you litigate it with the judge
whether it should be turned over.

I think the most important thing
for prosecutors,

and I tell it to the new ones,

is "Just remember,
you have a lot of power,

so make sure that justice is done
and that the truth is discovered."

One of the weird things
about the case that unfolded here

was the two different entities
that were prosecuting.

The Attorney General's Office
was prosecuting Sonja Farak,

but the Hampden County
District Attorney's Office

was prosecuting our clients.

And so that meant
anything in the Farak prosecution

that suggested Sonja Farak broke the law

would be exculpatory evidence
in our cases.

So, if it was bad for Farak,

it was good for us.

And I was hoping that we were going
to get stuff out of the Farak prosecution

that we could turn around and say,

"Samples have been compromised.

Our clients' rights have been violated.

Criminal charges against them
should be dismissed."

So, August 2013,

I get an email saying,

"Here's all of the evidence provided
by the Attorney General's Office."

The email said, "Here's all of
our evidence in the Farak investigation.

Here's everything that we have."

And they sent this document dump.

There's thousands of pages.

The first 2,500 were...

like, manuals
for the microscope at the lab,

operating instructions
for the spectrometer.

But the other things that I was
really expecting and wanting to see

um... were... were hinted at,
but were not disclosed.

So, we did get photographs
that were taken of her car.

The car was just a complete mess.

The trunk had so many things in it,
so many pieces of garbage.

Um, so many different papers

that the State Police spent hours

just taking papers out
of the back of her car

and trying to put them
in some sort of box.

Then we get
a three-page police report

that itemized things that were taken
from Sonja Farak's car

when they executed the search warrant
the day after her arrest.

And so when they went to classify,

"Well, what was found
in Sonja Farak's trunk?"

they put, quote, "assorted lab paperwork."

There are these repeated references to
"assorted lab paperwork" that were found.

But that's all they told us
is, you know,

"Exhibit number X,
assorted lab paperwork."

And so we had to guess what that meant.

And the State Police had delivered
to the Attorney General's Office

three cartons of what they call
"assorted lab paperwork."

It... it just made it very, very clear
to me that I wanted to see

this "assorted lab paperwork."

So, in the Attorney General's Office,

there are 11 different departments,

and one of those departments
deals only with appeals

and subpoena motions.

Um, and the Attorney General's Office

assigned this young,
um, very inexperienced

Assistant Attorney General, Kris Foster.

As I understood it,
she was a pretty green prosecutor.

She really,
didn't have much experience.

And, you know,
I just expected, the A-team.

But it was the B-team?

I'd say the C-team.

I write to Kris Foster,

who I learn has been
designated the point person

for the Attorney General's Office.

And I send her an email that said,
"Hey, Kris, I'm gonna need to see

all this evidence that was seized
and hasn't been disclosed.

So, can you help me
figure out a time and a place

to go and... and view the evidence?"

Luke asked me to email Kris Foster

and to say, "Look, you know, we'd
like to come and look at the evidence.

And she wrote back,
a couple of days later

and said that because this was
an ongoing prosecution of Sonja Farak,

that they would not permit me
to look at any of the evidence.

I think the email was something like,
"I've spoken to my superiors

and you're not going to be allowed
to look at the evidence."

And so the answer was a hard no.

Luke Ryan and several of his colleagues,

they begin to file motions

demanding to see the contents
of these three cartons.

I filed a motion to inspect the evidence.

What happens?
They hand over all the evidence, right?

They did not hand over all the evidence.

Kris Foster sent me the motion
to quash your subpoena.

"We don't wanna give you anything."

I've been covering courts
for almost 15 years now,

and it's actually been my favorite beat
of all the many beats I've covered.

I like it because
I like to see how "justice"

in its amorphous, um, concept plays out.

And this is where the story
of Sonja Farak played out.

The small pieces of the larger picture
all happened in this courthouse.

So, by late summer of 2013,

there are 15 or 16 defendants

who have filed motions
in Western Massachusetts.

And the state court system assigns

a magistrate named C. Jeffrey Kinder

to oversee this universe of cases.

Basically, Judge Kinder's task
was to decide

when Sonja Farak
started mishandling evidence.

And he was known
as a very straightforward judge, um...

Didn't like a lot
of argument from lawyers.

So, the main question
at the Kinder hearings

was to examine the scope
and timing of Sonja Farak's misconduct,

to find out how long
had tampering gone on.

How long she might have been using drugs.

So, we had to make sure that we had
all of the evidence in the case,

the exculpatory evidence.

Kris Foster was
sort of the star of that hearing

in that she actually got
Judge Kinder to be emotional,

and, um, that's really rare.

So, she just didn't want
to answer his questions

and he really wasn't used to that.

Judge Kinder asked her,

"Tell me, in, you know, general terms,
what you haven't disclosed."

She tells the judge
that she can't really say

because she hasn't looked at the file.

And she said, "Judge,
this is just irrelevant evidence.

There's no smoking gun.

Like, Attorney Ryan is
on a fishing expedition."

And Kinder explodes at her
and says,

"What do you mean,
there's nothing relevant here?

I'll be the person who decides that.

Go back, examine the evidence,
and submit it to me."

So, Foster goes back

with her tail between her legs
to the office,

tells her superiors,

and then what she does is write a letter.

She wrote a letter to Judge...
"Dear Judge Kinder,

After reviewing the files,
everything's been turned over."

"After carefully reviewing the file,
every document in it

has already been disclosed.

Therefore, there's nothing
for me to turn over."

And so Judge Kinder denied
my motion to inspect.

And then Judge Kinder found

that tampering had only gone back
as far as the summer of 2012.

I was surprised.

You know, how can you say
she's fine before then,

she was a great worker, no problem,

and then decide she, like,
"went bad" at a certain date?

Kinder decides
that these criminal acts of Farak's

only go back to July of 2012.

And this meant that anybody
who had been convicted by Sonja Farak

before July 2012
had absolutely no recourse.

The Judge Kinder decision meant
that anyone who had the substances

in their case tested by Sonja Farak
before the summer of 2012

were out of luck.

Judge Kinder's decision meant
that I'd hit a dead end

and I wasn't gonna be able
to help my client.

I stood up and I said, "You know,

the Attorney General's Office
has not given us access to evidence.

It has attempted to minimize

and downplay,
Sonja Farak's misconduct.

And they've demonstrated
a clear conflict of interest.

We have been forced
throughout this process

to accept that a person spent
nine and a half years as a chemist,

but only in her last six months on the job

developed a very serious drug addiction.

So this process has been tainted by that."

Judge Kinder ordered everyone
who had their sentences stayed,

people who were out of jail,

he ordered them to report to court
to go back to state prison.

These people had gone back
to their families and their friends

and their kids

and they lived normal lives again.

And to tell them that they have
to go back in, it was extremely...

um... painful and harsh.

We'd gotten all these people out

and then they all had to go back in.

Say what you will
about people who commit drug crimes.

Say what you will about the War on Drugs.

These were good people.
They all have good hearts.

And when they went back in,

that was the hardest thing
I've ever had to be a part of in...

as an attorney, or maybe in anything.

I show up to watch Rafael Rodriguez
go back to jail and, um...

that was heartbreaking.


I mean, for him
to have to show up in court

and kiss his wife goodbye again...

It was just a brutal thing
to watch happen.


I don't know, it's 'cause when they...
when he came out on bail,

he was with us,
and then he had to go back.

Remember, he had to go back.

And it was hard for just letting him go,

it would be like, "Okay...
He had to go back."

It felt like a punch in the gut.

I was free.

And one day they say,
"Look, there's gonna be a hearing

and everybody gotta be there."

I feel like I was betrayed.

All you gotta do is look at her.

Just by the look of her,
you can tell that she was into drugs.

I think she was having this
for a long, long time back.

Were there other standards
you tried like the amphetamine sample?

I mean,
at some point during that year,

I tried the cocaine standard
that was in the lab.

I was snorting that.

But we didn't have as much of it,
and we did go back to use that standard

because we got a fair number
of cocaine submissions to the lab.

So I really wasn't using much of it.

Is there any time during this period

that you moved beyond
the use of standards in the lab?

Yes, there... was.

I tampered with
my first piece of evidence.

Every Wednesday,
there were these big deliveries

from the biggest municipality
in Western Massachusetts, Springfield.

So Sonja, who was now hunting around

for a drug that would maintain her,

suddenly realizes
there's this 500 gram seizure

involving the US Postal Service

and pauses over it.

I was concerned with the cocaine standard
and the volume going down.

I had been assigned a sample
from the USPS, the postal service.

And, in that moment, she reflects

that she's about
to overstep a very bright line.

That was
a large amount of cocaine,

and after I analyzed it,
I did take some off to the side

for personal use.

Did you testify in that case?

Yes, I did.

How do you remember
that case specifically?

I remember
due to the quantity of it.

I remember actually sitting in the stand

and looking at it and knowing
that I had analyzed the sample

and that I had tampered with it.

I remember it.