Investigators begin probe into chemist

Accused of tampering with evidence

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is deploying teams Monday to inspect all evidence handled by a chemist accused of switching prescription drug evidence with over-the-counter medicine, possibly compromising drug convictions.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey said the cases mostly affect counties in North and West Florida, but extend as far south as Monroe County.

The only local county impacted is Columbia.

The motive is still unclear and that chemist has not been arrested.

"It could be personal use. It could be trafficking," Bailey said. "We don't know."

In addition to the investigation, FDLE will review its laboratory protocols to prevent a recurrence.

Bailey said FDLE currently administers a drug test upon hiring and, after that, "for cause."

"We're going to look at the rules and regs governing drug testing," he said. "But again, we don't know that this chemist was actually ingesting drugs."

The chemist, whose name wasn't released, has been relieved of duty from the FDLE's Pensacola Regional Crime Laboratory while the investigation continues. No one has been arrested in the case.

Since 2006, the chemist worked 2,600 cases for 80 law enforcement agencies in 35 Florida counties and 12 judicial circuits, authorities said. That's one percent of the volume of evidence handled by the lab.

Bailey said some drug convictions could be overturned, CNN affiliate WCTV reported. The station cited Bailey as saying the chemist has hired a lawyer.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said her office would assist in the investigation.

"Our battle against prescription drug abuse in Florida has been very successful over the last three years, and I will not tolerate any actions that compromise our continued success in ridding our state of this problem," Bondi said in a statement.

"This situation simply underlines the extent of the problem our country faces with prescription drug abuse," Bondi added.

The investigation began last week when investigators discovered missing prescription pain pills from the evidence room at the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, authorities said. The missing prescription drugs had been replaced with over-the-counter medications.

On Thursday, investigators determined that each case with missing prescription drugs had been analyzed by the one chemist, and authorities opened a criminal investigation.

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