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From testimony given at a grand-jury hearing last year by Sonja Farak, a former chemist at the Massachusetts State Crime Laboratory, in Amherst. In 2014, Farak pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Drug standards are used to compare with drugs presented as evidence in court cases. Thomas Caldwell and Kim West are the assistant attorneys general. Peter Velis is the special assistant attorney general. The Amherst lab was closed in 2013.

thomas caldwell: Ms. Farak, growing up, did you ever have the opportunity to use drugs?

sonja farak: I was never introduced to any drugs until after college.

caldwell: When did you start taking methamphetamine?

farak: The first time I took any was late 2004 or early 2005.

caldwell: Why did you do that?

farak: I was curious. When I got to the Amherst lab I ended up seeing a meth standard that they had, and one day I just decided to try a little bit. It was in a liquid form, so I used a pipette and stuck it in the bottle and squirted it in my mouth and swallowed it.

caldwell: What effect did it have on you?

farak: I felt amazing. It gave me energy. I felt more alert. It gave me the pep I was looking for. I would keep a small aliquot in my drawer. I could do it when no one was looking.

caldwell: Were you doing it more than once a day?

farak: It’s a longer high. It was probably never more than two or three times a day.

caldwell: Is it fair to say that for three plus years you had been using methamphetamine at the lab?

farak: That’s right.

caldwell: In terms of the liquid methamphetamine sample, did anyone notice it missing?

farak: At one point, James Hanchett was doing an inventory of the lab. I knew that the level had gone down dramatically because of what I had taken and so I added some water to it.

caldwell: What happened?

farak: Well, oil and water don’t mix very well, so it separated. Because of the age of the sample and the fact that the seal was corroding, he assumed that it was just degrading.

caldwell: Did Hanchett suspect that anybody had been using that standard?

farak: I didn’t get that feeling.

caldwell: Did any other chemists at the lab discuss that incident?

farak: No.

caldwell: Did anyone talk of people using drugs at the lab or suspect that you were under the influence of a drug?

farak: There was never any talk of anyone using drugs or things missing.

caldwell: Were there any other standards that you tried?

farak: At some point I tried the cocaine that was in the lab, very pure. I was snorting that.

caldwell: Where were you using the cocaine?

farak: In the bathrooms at work.

caldwell: Were you using any other standards?

farak: I was still using amphetamine, but by midyear I had used all of it.

caldwell: So what did you do?

farak: Panicked and put a counterfeit substance in the jar. I believe it was sodium sulphate.

caldwell: Did you take any samples from evidence that you were supposed to test?

farak: Cocaine-powder samples.

caldwell: Did you ever try a ketamine standard?

farak: I tried ketamine and I tried MDMA, MDEA.

peter velis: Is it your opinion or knowledge that anyone knew that you were under the influence while you were conducting these tests?

farak: All I had to do was grab a vial and go on a bathroom break and the drugs would slowly hit me. They didn’t seem to notice.

kim west: Was there a period of time when you were smoking crack cocaine?

farak: Correct. I would go to the bathroom. I learned which ones were more frequented, which were single stalls. I could sneak across the hallway to the fume hood because I could get rid of the smoke directly. If it was the end of the day, and everyone had already left, then I could smoke at my lab bench.

caldwell: Did anybody question your absence from your workstation?

farak: I don’t remember anyone commenting.

caldwell: When crack cocaine wasn’t readily available, you manufactured base cocaine?

farak: I did, yes.

caldwell: I’m going to point out a specific date to you, Ms. Farak. January 9, 2012.

farak: I recall that day. It was one day if you asked if I was impaired, I would have to say yes. One of my submissions was liquid LSD, and that day I took some at work. I did it around lunchtime and I remember not being able to function too well. I was very impaired. I couldn’t drive. I had to cancel a therapy appointment. There were, as far as hallucinations, not little green men but, you know, colors swaying in the wind. I remember going to the bathroom to smoke crack after taking it and dropping some of it and totally freaking out, crawling on the floor.

caldwell: Now, you manufactured base cocaine. Did any of your fellow chemists discover materials that would give rise to the belief that this was going on at the lab?

farak: The only time that anything was discovered was when I made some crack over the holidays and left a beaker that had some liquid and some white residue, probably baking soda or baking powder, on the edge, and James ended up finding it. He asked, “Do you know what this is?” I said I didn’t, and he came up with the idea that maybe Rebecca had brought her daughter in and they were doing a science experiment.

caldwell: Were you at any point questioned by the Massachusetts State Police with regard to your testing and your procedures?

farak: There were a couple people looking at our notebooks. I was interviewed.

caldwell: Your drug use at this point was very heavy?

farak: Correct.

caldwell: You were using daily?

farak: Mm-hmm.

caldwell: Multiple times a day?

farak: Correct.

caldwell: During the interview, were you under the influence?

farak: Yes.

caldwell: What were you under the influence of?

farak: Crack cocaine.

caldwell: And there were no issues?

farak: It seemed to run smooth.

caldwell: What was the tone?

farak: It was a friendly conversation. We talked football. He was a Jets fan.

caldwell: Can you estimate the number of interactions you had with officers when you were under the influence?

farak: Probably three or four interactions a week.

caldwell: Thank you. I have nothing further.

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September 2016

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