Second state chemist pleads not guilty to charges of tampering with drugs

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Sonja Farak left the courthouse in Belchertown today after posting bail. (Brian Ballou/Globe Staff)

BELCHERTOWN — A 35-year-old state chemist pleaded not guilty today to charges she tampered with drug evidence while working at a state drug lab in Amherst.

Sonja Farak of Northampton was ordered held on $5,000 cash bail at her arraignment in Eastern Hampshire District Court. A judge slated a further hearing for Feb. 22.

Farak is the second person to face criminal charges for allegedly tampering with evidence at a state crime lab where seized substances were sent to be tested. The actions of Annie Dookhan, a chemist at another, now-closed, state lab in Jamaica Plain, have jeopardized thousands of cases, throwing the state court system into turmoil.

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Prosecutors say Farak took evidence in two cases, possibly for personal use. She allegedly tried to cover her tracks by replacing the stolen drugs with counterfeit substances.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the two cases will be compromised or whether there are more cases involved.

“If we didn’t have the case from the eastern part of the state, there would not be so much scrutiny,” Farak’s attorney Elaine Pourinski said at the arraignment today. Pourinski said Farak did not have a prior record, describing her as “a kind-hearted person, helpful to neighbors, especially ... those with disabilities.”

Farak’s parents and others were in the courtroom to support her. They left without commenting.

The allegations in the case against Farak are vastly different from those against Dookhan, Attorney General Martha Coakley told reporters Sunday at a news conference.

Coakley said authorities had found no evidence that suspects’ due process rights were violated in any cases. “These drugs . . . were tested fairly,” Coakley said.

But Hampden District Attorney Mark G. Mastroianni, whose office handled the two cases in question, would not rule out a scenario like the one playing out in the Dookhan case.

“I think it would be realistic to think that something like that is about to start happening in Hampden County,” he told the Globe Sunday in a telephone interview. “It’s premature to tell you that definitively.”

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