Drug lab had chemist scandal in 1985

October 12, 2012
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The tainted-evidence scandal that recently shuttered the Jamaica Plain-based state drug lab is not the first time that a chemist there has been accused of wrongdoing.

In 1985, a similar scandal erupted when a chemist was charged with stealing cocaine in 11 criminal cases after testing it at the State Laboratory Institute at 305 South St., as the Boston Globe reported at the time. Unlike the current scandal, the chemist was not accused of altering any of the drug evidence.

Dr. Bailus Walker Jr., then the state public health commissioner, claimed at the time that it was an “isolated event involving a single analyst” and the first in the lab’s history, according to the Globe archives. He also said that the drug lab had improved security and supervision of “sample flow and quality control measures.”

Security and supervision at the drug lab allegedly failed again in recent years as chemist Annie Dookhan is accused of mishandling drug evidence in various ways, including not testing it at all, or deliberately altering the substances being tested. She reportedly also had improper access to the drug evidence safe. Unlike the 1985 case, the current scandal at this point does not involve any allegations of drug thefts.

The defendant in the 1985 case was Peter A. Gandolfo of Chelsea, according to the Globe. It is unclear what happened with the criminal case after his indictment. The Gazette could not locate a follow-up article in the Globe archives, and no one by his name has a phone number listed in Chelsea today.

“I’ve been waiting for someone to call me on that,” said Richard Clayman, the Chelsea attorney who represented Gandolfo, when contacted by the Gazette. He said he could not immediately recall what happened in the case or what became of Gandolfo, but added that Gandolfo was not motivated by profit.

“It was similar to this [Dookhan] case,” Clayman said of the Gandolfo case. “It got some notoriety. But it didn’t get the notoriety this [Dookhan] case got.”

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office did not respond to Gazette questions about the Gandolfo case.

The 1985 case was mentioned by some drug lab workers in interviews given to the State Police troopers investigating the Dookhan case, according to documents published online by the Globe on Sept. 26.

Walker, who is now a professor of environmental and occupational health at Howard University in Washington, D.C., said that he did not remember the Gandolfo case and that State Lab officials would have handled it directly.

“To be honest with you, I don’t recall that,” he said in a Gazette phone interview.

He said that in the 1980s, the State Lab was considered one of the nation’s top two state laboratories and had a reputation as “almost equivalent” to the federal National Institutes of Health.

“That laboratory was one of the best in the country,” Walker said. “It published almost as much [research] as any academic institution.”

He said that he heard about the current drug lab scandal through Washington media.