By Zach Howard
CONWAY, Massachusetts (Reuters) - A chemist who worked at a Massachusetts state drug lab was indicted on Monday on state charges of tampering with evidence and stealing cocaine held in evidence, in the second case against a state chemist in recent months.
Sonja Farak, who has been suspended with pay from her position at a state drug lab in western Massachusetts, was charged with theft of a controlled substance from an authorized dispensary and tampering with evidence, and possession of a Class B substance, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said in a statement.
Farak, 35, was arrested in January on charges related to her work at the Amherst Drug Laboratory, about 90 miles west of Boston, and pleaded not guilty to charges of tampering and drug possession.
Her arrest came a month after another state drug lab chemist, Annie Dookhan, was indicted on charges of falsifying evidence in thousands of drug cases, resulting in the release of hundreds of people who had been convicted on related charges.
Last week, a state court judge ordered the suspension of the sentences of eight imprisoned men due to the questions about Farak's evidence handling, according to local media.
Prosecutors charged Dookhan with inspecting samples only visually, a pattern apparently intended to speed up evidence handling. Dookhan has pleaded not guilty.
In Farak's case, prosecutors said she had removed drug samples for her own use and mixed drug evidence samples with counterfeit drugs to hide the theft.
Her attorney did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
The Amherst lab where Farak worked stores and analyzes controlled substances seized by local and state police. Lab supervisors in January contacted State Police to report a discrepancy in the controlled substance evidence inventory, and police and Coakley's office began investigating.
Authorities said they found controlled substances believed to be cocaine both in Farak's workstation and in her vehicle, Coakley said. In addition, they found Farak had materials consistent with the counterfeit material allegedly added to two of the drug samples.
Farak began working as a state lab chemist at the Hinton lab in Boston in 2002 and moved to the Amherst lab in 2004, Coakley said. State police assumed oversight of the Amherst lab and the Hinton lab from the Department of Public Health in July after learning of Dookhan's alleged activities.
(Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Johnston and Steve Orlofsky)