The cost of the drug war

Someday soon, perhaps even today, Supreme Court Justice Frank Graziano will sign an order dismissing charges against about 8,000 drug defendants whose cases were caught up in the misconduct by state chemist Sonja Farak.

That, however, will not close the books on the latest state lab scandal because the SJC is also set to hear an appeal by one defendant whose case has been dismissed and now he wants back the $3,000 in court costs he was ordered to pay. If the SJC finds in his favor – and a recent US Supreme Court case appears to bolster the argument – the state, which has already spent tens of millions of dollars dealing with the cases involving Farak and her notorious colleague Annie Dookhan, could be on the hook for $100 million or more.

Farak’s case has been flying under the radar, either because of the volume of Dookhan’s misdeeds or perhaps fatigue over the cases. But once Graziano dismisses the Farak cases, it will bring the total to nearly 30,000 defendants across the state released because of the toxic behaviors of two prosecution witnesses who used science to manipulate the judicial system.

Dookhan, a former chemist at the now-shuttered Hinton State Lab in Jamaica Plain, needs no introduction. She was found guilty of putting her thumb on the scale of justice by making up false chemical results and adding weight to drug seizures to up charges in order to assist prosecutors in getting convictions. In 2013, she pled guilty and was sentenced to three to five years in prison and has since been released and is on parole. But her legacy continues.

Farak, a chemist at the state lab in Amherst, is more of an enigma, her case overshadowed by Dookhan. She admitted to years of abusing drugs herself, often taking from seized evidence and even smoking crack in the lab’s basement. She was the focus of a Rolling Stone piece last month that had a damning look at the state’s criminal justice system.

The Legislature in 2013 set up a fund to deal with the investigation and prosecution of Dookhan and determine the reach of the scandal. Last year, that fund was expanded to include Farak’s actions. To date, the fund has spent more than $20.6 million.

That may just be a down payment. The case before the SJC, which will be heard in May, could turn out to be a costly appeal. And that’s before any of the defendants claim damages from the prosecutions of bogus cases.

In a ruling last year involving a Colorado couple whose convictions were overturned, the Supreme Court decided 7-1 that the state cannot retain the court fees, including victim witness fees, exacted from the defendants because in the eyes of the law they are innocent. The simple wording of the ruling by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is sure to send shivers up the spine of state budget officials.

“When a criminal conviction is invalidated by a reviewing court and no retrial will occur, is the State obliged to refund fees, court costs, and restitution exacted from the defendant upon, and as a consequence of, the conviction?” Ginsburg wrote. “Our answer is yes. Absent conviction of a crime, one is presumed innocent.”

Benjamin Keehn, the public defender representing Jose Martinez who is appealing the court costs, told the Boston Herald he understands the hit the state will have but it’s a price they will have to pay, at minimum.

“This is money being returned,” he said. “This isn’t an award.”

That could come later.



Members of the Cannabis Control Commission are warning that retail pot sales could be delayed beyond the scheduled start date of July 1. (Salem News)

Rep. Peter Kocot died on Thursday.


A woman who accused Felix Arroyo of sexual harassment when he headed Boston’s health and human services agency withdrew her complaint with the state and indicated she plans to file a civil suit. (Boston Globe)

Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter filed a conflict of interest disclosure with the state after the city completed negotiations for raises with the police Superior Officers’ union, acknowledging his son who is a patrolman is in line for a promotion to sergeant. (The Enterprise)

Apartment dwellers in Quincy are seeing their rents rise because the city’s assessments of mid-size apartment buildings, those with eight to 50 units, increased an average of 24 percent. (Patriot Ledger)


National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre warns of Democratic “saboteurs” and “socialists” eager to take American rights away.  “You should be anxious and you should be frightened,” he said during a speech in Maryland, noting that Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others fall in the socialist category. (Boston Globe)

An armed Broward County deputy sheriff who was assigned to security at the Parkland, Florida, school where 17 people were gunned down was fired after video and eyewitness accounts showed that he waited outside for more than four minutes looking for cover while the shooting was going on. (New York Times)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has filed superseding indictments against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an associate, Richard Gates, charging them with tax and bank fraud. (National Review)

A new study finds the number of hate groups around the country is on the rise. (Washington Post)

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens was indicted for felony invasion of privacy, which means he is accused of photographing a woman with whom he had an affair and then transmitting the photo electronically. (Governing)

Citing racism, Haitian and Salvadoran immigrants sue the Trump administration over the end of a temporary immigration program. (WBUR)


Special elections, which are called when an elected official leaves office early, are special-made for insiders. (CommonWealth)

Howie Carr points out if either City Councilor Michael Flaherty wins the Suffolk County District Attorney slot or fellow Councilor Ayanna Pressley defeats US Rep. Michael Capuano, the fifth-place finisher in last year’s council race would move into the vacant slot — and that would be perennial candidate Althea Garrison.

Secretary of State William Galvin said a suit by former governor and Libertarian vice president candidate Bill Weld to apportion electoral votes by percentage of popular vote is a “scheme” and would bring more uncertainty to the 2020 election. (Boston Herald)

A Boston Globe editorial has a problem with Teamsters Local 25 endorsing Gov. Charlie Baker for reelection, and Baker welcoming the endorsement.

Republican businessman John Kingston spent $30,000 just on food for his campaign kickoff. (Boston Globe)


A new report from the Social Security Inspector General’s office says the agency underpaid widows and widowers over the age of 70  $131.8 million last year by failing to inform them of survivor and retirement benefits they are eligible for. (U.S. News & World Report)

The Berkshire Mall experienced a blackout for the second time in five weeks. (Berkshire Eagle)


Teachers renounce President Trump’s call to arm themselves in order to protect students. (Boston Globe)

The co-founder of KIPP, one of the largest operators of charter schools in the country (including schools in Boston and Lynn), was fired after allegations of sexual misconduct including a claim of sexually abusing a minor student 20 years ago. (New York Times)

An “inappropriate” SnapChat post by a student at Greater Lawrence Technical School is causing friction between parents and the superintendent. (Eagle-Tribune)

Medford Principal Jake Edwards was placed on paid leave after it was discovered a partially loaded gun clip was found at the McGlynn Middle School in December and Edwards failed to disclose it. (MassLive)


The state’s Group Insurance Commission, which provides health coverage to state and municipal workers, said members will on average see no increase in premiums. (State House News)


Gov. Charlie Baker called Wednesday’s Red Line train derailment “not acceptable,” and noted much of the equipment at the T is 50 years old. (State House News)

Kitty Dukakis, who had a hand in pullling alcohol advertising off the MBTA, appeals to Baker to halt the T’s plan to resume running the ads. (Boston Globe)


The MBTA will begin installing solar panel canopies at 37 of its parking lots as part of the state’s clean energy initiative and T officials say they expect each lot to return about $35 million over the next 20 years. (Patriot Ledger)


Investigators with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission reviewed their notes from 2014 and concluded nothing was amiss with Wynn Resorts donating $2 million to the Republican National Governors Association and the association turning around and giving roughly that same amount to a political action committee supporting Charlie Baker for governor. (Boston Globe)


The State Police placed trooper Leigha Genduso on paid leave after a website disclosed that she had been a co-conspirator in a massive drug case in 2007 and escaped prosecution by testifying against her former fiance. The State Police aren’t talking about how their background checks failed to uncover the information. (Boston Globe)

A MBTA trolley driver was indicted on insurance fraud and faces perjury charges as well after authorities say he paid a friend $2,000 to attack him and then cited the injuries to obtain a disability pension. (Boston Herald)


Kirk Davis, the owner of a small group of Massachusetts-based publications, sold them to GateHouse Media, where he serves as CEO. The acquisition means Worcester Magazine and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette will both be owned by the same company. (Telegram & Gazette)