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November 23, 2013

Mass. chemist pleads guilty in drug lab scandal

BOSTON — A former chemist at a Massachusetts drug lab who admitted faking test results in criminal cases pleaded guilty yesterday and was sentenced to prison in a scandal that has jeopardized thousands of convictions.

Annie Dookhan changed her plea yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and tampering with evidence. She was sentenced to three to five years in prison, followed by two years’ probation.

The diminutive Dookhan showed no emotion during the hearing and did not address the court. She answered “guilty” and replied to a series of routine questions from the judge in a barely audible voice. She was led away in handcuffs and will begin serving her sentence immediately at the state women’s prison in Framingham.

Her attorney did not comment after the hearing, and her parents left without speaking to reporters.

Dookhan sent the state’s criminal justice system into a tailspin last year when state police shut down the state Department of Public Health lab she worked at after discovering the extent of her misconduct.

Prosecutors said Dookhan admitted “dry labbing,” or testing only a fraction of a batch of samples, then listing them all as positive for illegal drugs, to “improve her productivity and burnish her reputation.”

Since the lab closed in August 2012, at least 1,100 criminal cases have been dismissed or not prosecuted because of tainted evidence or other fallout from the lab’s shutdown.

Anne Kaczmarek, the state’s prosecutor, asked Judge Carol Ball to impose a five- to seven-year sentence, citing the “egregious nature” of Dookhan’s actions. Ball had already said in a written memo that she would not sentence Dookhan to more than three to five years if she changed her plea.

Defense attorney Nicolas Gordon asked for a one-year sentence for his client, who was born in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago and has no previous criminal record.

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