In the week's latest instance of good-girl-gone-fraud, former Massachusetts state chemist Annie Dookhan plead guilty Friday to all 27 charges relating to her falsification of numerous drug tests. She's been sentenced to three to five years in prison, plus two years' probation. Dookhan admitted to "dry labbing" (or eyeballing) samples instead of testing them thoroughly. She often only actually tested 20 percent of samples, and even changed a negative narcotic sample to a positive on multiple occasions. She was involved in over 40,000 cases during the nine years she worked at her lab in Jamaica Plain, which has since closed.
Three hundred of the people incarcerated for drug cases in which she was involved have been released by the Department of Corrections (not including those released by county correctional institutions). Another 600 have had convictions erased — at least temporarily — or have been released on bail until they can be tried again.
Much of the media subtext surrounding Dookhan has focused her own background. Dookhan was born in Trinidad and allegedly committed her crimes in order to be the best and fastest chemist out there. This is the story many have latched onto: Dookhan is the hardworking immigrant whose reality couldn't keep up with her ambition. From the Associated Press:
Chemist Annie Dookhan was "Superwoman," a colleague at a Massachusetts state crime lab used to joke. She seemed unstoppable in her quest to please prosecutors, police and her bosses, testing two to three times more drug samples than anyone else, working through lunch and not bothering to put in for overtime.
From the Boston Globe:
A petite 4 feet 11 inches and a native of Trinidad, Dookhan appeared determined even as a young immigrant girl to outrun expectations and the perceived anonymity of her circumstances.
From radio station WBUR:
Still, the question remains: Why did she do it? There is little in Dookhan’s history to provide an answer... She’s the only child of immigrant parents who were proud of their daughter’s accomplishments. Her lab supervisors described her as a valuable member of the team.
But a simple account of cheating is far from the full story. By all accounts, Dookhan was a compulsive liar, fabricating stories about everything from her parents' jobs to her (nonexistent) master's and doctorate degrees. And her lab was, by all accounts, extremely overworked and underfunded. While many tellings of this story have addressed these details, mental health and government oversight are often deemphasized in favor of an inversion of the familiar hardworking-immigrant story.