Lab worker investigated over missing drugs

 State agency is reviewing 2,600 cases suspected chemist handled

By Kareem Copeland and Melissa Nelson-Gabriel
Associated Press

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — A Florida crime lab employee resigned Monday during an investigation into missing drug evidence that authorities say could compromise hundreds of cases.

Department officials did not identify the employee. When The Associated Press asked for the suspect’s resignation letter, they released a copy of a letter from an employee named Joseph Graves.

No one responded to a message left at a telephone number listed for that name, and no one answered a knock on the door of a house located at an address registered to that name. The State Attorney’s Office identified his lawyer as Michael Griffith, who declined to comment when contacted by telephone.

The chemist under investigation is suspected of substituting non-prescription drugs for prescription painkillers, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said over the weekend.

The agency is now reviewing 2,600 cases the suspected employee handled involving 80 law enforcement agencies in 35 counties, said Bill Eddins, state attorney for the district that includes Pensacola. The employee has not been formally charged but probably will be later this week, Eddins said.

“We will be conducting a thorough investigation to see if each and every case was handled properly,” he said.

Authorities say it is unclear whether the employee was stealing pills for personal use, to sell them, or both.

“The prosecution of this case is going to be both complicated and significant,” Eddins said.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys said Monday that the alleged theft could create massive problems for courts and law enforcement agencies throughout Florida and could result in some convictions being thrown out and sentences reduced. Some said that it even could taint cases from the department not directly involving the employee.

Attorneys said the contaminated evidence could cause big problems for Florida’s already overburdened courts.