Chemist arrested for tampering at drug lab; prosecutor says no Keys cases affected

lkahn@keynoter.comFebruary 5, 2014 

State police have opened an investigation into drugs missing from a crime lab used by the Monroe County State Attorney's Office, but it doesn't appear any Keys cases will be affected, the county's top prosecutor says.

"We have one but it's not going to be anything we're concerned about," State Attorney Catherine Vogel said.

Joseph Graves, a chemist at the Pensacola lab operated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is accused of stealing drugs from an evidence room. The FDLE opened an investigation at the request of Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan and William Eddins, state attorney for Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties.

Tuesday, FDLE agents arrested Graves three days after announcing he might have compromised hundreds of state drug cases. He's charged with grand theft, 12 counts of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, and nine counts of trafficking in illegal drugs. Additional charges are possible.

Investigators believe that Graves, while processing drug cases, replaced prescription pain pills with over-the-counter medications.

He would "would test the drugs, weigh them, take out some drugs for himself, replace what he was stealing with over-the-counter stuff and take it back to the evidence lab," Vogel said. "We only had one case where he was a witness. He was a witness in this one case. I'm confident that what he was doing did not affect it."

That case is a heroin and cocaine possession case against Christopher Richie, 22, of Dayton, Ohio.

He was a passenger in a 2000 Chevy sedan pulled over for speeding on Feb. 21, 2013, by state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Officer Sebastian Dri at mile marker 98 southbound on U.S. 1. Also in the car were driver Ryan Hall, 23, and Anthony Guy, 25.

Dri wrote in a report that as he was asking the three questions, he saw Richie, seated in the rear passenger side, fidgeting and apparently trying to hide something.

He ordered the three out of the car and searched it. Dri found under the front passenger seat 3.5 grams of heroin, eight grams of cocaine and a scale commonly used to weigh drugs. Dri wrote in his report that Hall and Guy both said the drugs were Richie's.

On May 1, 2013, Richie pleaded no contest to possession of heroin, cocaine and drug paraphernalia. On the paraphernalia count, Judge Regan Ptomey sentenced him to 70 days in jail, and he got credit for time served.

On the possession counts, Richie was ordered to go through 24 months of drug court while on probation for the same period of time. He also had to be drug-tested three times a week and had a curfew of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Richie's case "doesn't fit any of the criteria of what's gone on" with the FDLE investigation into the Pensacola chemist, Vogel said.

Graves processed 2,600 cases for 80 law-enforcement agencies spanning 12 judicial circuits and 35 Florida counties since 2006. The cases mostly affect counties in North and West Florida.

This report was supplemented with information from the News Service of Florida.

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