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Massachusetts Chemist Sentenced for Tampering With Narcotic Evidence

Massachusetts crime lab chemist Annie Dookhan pleaded guilty to 27 charges, like tampering with evidence, perjury, obstruction of justice, and falsely claiming to hold a master’s degree. The woman deliberately affected the lives of over 40,000 defendants who were wrongly released, or convicted based on her inaccurate test results.

Case Background

Annie Dookhan’s job as a crime lab chemist entailed the testing of drug evidence submitted by law enforcement agencies at the William A. Hinton State Laboratory in Jamaica Plain. Authorities began an investigation of Dookhan’s lab practices after they were “tipped off” by her colleagues as to the reliability of her results. They soon learned that Dookhan engaged in a regular practice of visually identifying drug samples instead of chemically testing the contents of the evidentiary vials.

Dookhan only tested a small fraction of the samples, and then recorded all the samples in the batch as “positive” for drugs. The woman’s practice, also known as “dry-labbing,” enabled her to cut corners by saving time and “completing” a larger amount of cases. Reportedly, Annie Dookhan tampered with evidence because she sought to advance her career with her increased productivity. Nevertheless, since her arrest in August 2012 an estimated 40,000 defendants could be affected by Dookhan’s testing.

Annie Dookhan’s False Expert Testimony

Aside from her faulty drug tests, Annie Dookhan has also tampered with her own accreditations in a court of law. Called in to testify as an expert in a criminal trial for cocaine charges, Dookhan claimed that she held a Master’s Degree in Chemistry for the University of Massachusetts. The jury considered her testimony as reliable expertise, and thus overturned the criminal defendant’s conviction in the case. As a result of Dookhan’s false claims in court, the guilty defendant was released, he continued a chain of illegal activity, and even killed a Brockton, Massachusetts resident.

Long-term Effects of Dookhan’s Fraudulent Actions

Annie Dookhan deliberately affected tens of thousands of lives by dry-labbing. For every piece of evidence she did not test, yet marked as a drug sample, a person was wrongly convicted and might still be serving time. According to Attorney General Martha Coakley, Annie Dookhan’s actions “harmed the integrity of the system and put the public’s safety at risk.” While Dookhan’s attorney urged that his client never intended to “throw the entire Massachusetts criminal justice system into a tailspin,” but this is a hard contention to consider. Dookhan wanted to advance her career, and she ignored all the innocent lives that were forced under the criminal system, as well as the millions of dollars which the state will have to spend to rectify her mistakes. The future is unclear for Massachusetts drug testing labs, wherein more and more incidents of shoddy oversight have plagued their reliability.

‘Tis the Season…For Fraud – What You Need To Know

This holiday season, if you are offered a deal that looks to good to be true, and then it probably is.

As many of us are out and about rushing to get gifts for our loved ones, be careful not to become a victim of fraud. By the time Scott Jacobson realized he had been ripped off, it was too late. Don’t let the same thing happen to you.

Jacobson was at a Dundalk gas station when a man approached him selling what looked like a brand new iPads for $200. The man offered Mr. Jacobson a new iPad, but when Mr. Jacobson told him he had no money, the man quickly lowered his price to $100 dollars. Later that day, when Mr. Jacobson opened the iPad, it was a marble tile. Mr. Jacobson remarks that he realized that the iPad may have been a fake, however, he was eager to check off another item off his Christmas list.

Mr. Jacobson was hoping to save a buck, but instead lost $200 dollars. Experts at the Better Business Bureau say they haven’t heard much about on-the-street scams like this but say they are just another thing for consumers to look out for this holiday season.  Now more than ever, it is easy for anyone to steal images off the Internet and trick people into buying fake objects.

In Massachusetts, the Attorney General’s Office assists consumers who have been victims of fraud, deception, and unfair business practices. Many people and businesses are unaware of the rights and responsibilities that arise from the Massachusetts Consumer Protection law, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 93A. The statute provides protection for consumers from “unfair or deceptive practices” by businesses or other parties. Like most legal questions, “unfair” and “deceptive” are broadly defined to ensure that it protects the most consumers. Fraud, deception and unfair methods of competition also violate Chapter 93A. The statute protects any individual who is injured, however, the rules differ for individuals and businesses.

If you are a victim of consumer fraud, you may sue under section 9 of chapter 93a. As an injured party, you must be able to demonstrate your claim:

(1) file a detailed 30-day many letter,

(2) That you are a consumer plaintiff (an individual who engages in commerce for personal purposes)

(3) The defendant’s action were unfair or deceptive, and that

(4) These actions resulted in a “loss of money or property, real or personal” to that consumer.”

Tips to protect you this holiday season:

  1. Use credit cards to make purchases. In case you are scammed, a credit card can provide an extra layer of security and possibly help you trace back your money.

  2. Use your judgment. If you are approached by a stranger to purchase an item outside of the store, and the price is significantly marked down, chances are it’s a fake.

  3. If you cannot make it to the stores – try to shop on websites you trust, especially for big-ticket items. Buying directly from big name brands online will provide you a warranty in itself in case something goes wrong.

  4. Make sure to only purchase items from an authorized dealer and that there is a return policy. A return policy can be a good indicator that a seller is willing to stand by the products they sell.

Be a savvy spender this holiday season, but remain alert. While it is always nice to save money, consider where you plan to make your purchases to help ensure that you do not become a victim of fraud.

Taxi Cab Fraud in Boston?

Bostonians hopping into taxis to get from place to place have far larger concerns than getting there on time, according to an exclusive report the Boston Globe released this month. The great majority of cabs in the city, owned in large part by Boston Cab, is woefully underinsured and routinely leaves accident victims to their own devices in their medical bills.

Reforms Currently On Standby

The Globe reports that efforts to reform the current legal framework have mostly fallen to the wayside, though accident victims are working together to organize for reform.

The greatest problem with the current system is twofold: cab companies are permitted to purchase only a fraction of what a private citizen would have to in automobile insurance, and cab companies have fragmented themselves to oblivion so as to avoid paying premiums on insurance or being held legally liable in the event of an accident.

Taxi Insurance Minimums Much Lower Than Private Cars’

The article focuses mostly on Boston Cab’s enterprise, run by its owner Edward Tutunjian, as it is responsible for the largest number of cabs in Boston. According to the Globe, about 80% of taxis in Massachusetts have $20,000 worth of insurance on them, nowhere near enough for a major accident or personal injury lawsuit. The state legally requires only that much insurance on each vehicle, far less than the legally mandated minimum for private cars, though the Globe notes that statistics show taxis are about seven times more likely to have an accident than a regular car. This is also less insurance than that required on smaller vehicles like motorcycles. This is also significantly less than in other parts of the country for taxis. For example, New York City requires $100,000 on each commercial vehicle.

Boston Cab Avoiding Paying Premiums

While most of the aforementioned is publicly available, the exclusive report focuses on Tutunjian’s practice of self-insuring the cabs by depositing money in state accounts, rather than paying premiums. In addition, the cabs are franchised to their drivers in many instances, which places Boston Cab behind the corporate veil and prevents victims from successfully suing the greater corporate entity. Rather than suing Boston Cab, a victim is led to believe the responsible entity is a far smaller corporation or partnership which does not have the resources to pay beyond what their minimal insurance covers.

Despite Outrage, Not Illegal for Cabs to Avoid Premiums

This practice is not illegal, just as the small insurance rates are not. The article reports that, while many lawyers in the state have attempted to pierce the corporate veil and target Boston Cab directly, they have yet to be successful. Attempts to attract the attention of legislators and increase the mandatory insurance minimum to reasonable levels have also failed, with several victims telling the paper they feel neglected and ignored despite continuing to pressure their representatives to address the problem.

The Globe has published their exposé in three parts of several pages each, hopefully contributing to the attention the taxi issue has increasingly received from the legal community. Without legislative action, however, it is difficult to see a resolution to this situation, as these corporate and insurance practices are entirely within the realm of the law, leaving accident victims with little recourse outside of a sympathetic jury.

Identity Theft in Boston: Local Scandal Reminds us to Protect Ourselves

According to one 2012 Department of Justice study, about 8,571,900 Americans are victims of identity theft or fraud each year.  This crime that’s often simply described as the fraudulent misuse of a person’s banking, credit card or other personal identity information  affects approximately 7 percent of households each year.  The average cost of each incident of identity theft is about $4,930 and the entire country suffers about $13.2 billion in cumulative financial losses each year.

Massachusetts headlines carry stories about identity fraud quite regularly, including one recent story about an incident in Allston. These types of stories are important because they should remind all of us to regularly monitor all of our financial transactions and stand ready to become proactive when we discover any irregularities.                               

Alleged Liquor Store Fraud and Identity Theft Incidents

One recent story involved Blanchard’s Liquor Store in Allston. According to the Boston Police Department (BPD), there’s an ongoing investigation into multiple consumer complaints about credit card and banking fraud occurring at the store. A spokesperson for Blanchard’s claims the store has been victimized by some type of “malware” inserted into its credit and debit card transactions.

Customers claiming their credit and banking information has been compromised by shopping at Blanchard’s said they’ve since discovered fraudulent purchases on their accounts elsewhere in Allston — and even in at least one other state. The FBI, Secret Service and independent IT consultants are all working with the BPD on this investigation.  

All of those defrauded in this liquor store incident now realize that they must do more to carefully monitor all of their transactions, always looking for irregularities.  

Five Important Ways to Guard Against Identity Theft

Before a bank or credit card company ever needs to call you about suspected fraud or misuse of your funds via identity theft, the Massachusetts’ Attorney General’s Office suggests you practice the following safety rules on a daily basis.     

  1. Never carry your social security card in your purse or wallet and only take the credit card(s) you’ll need for any one specific outing;
  2. Always keep an accurate list of all the addresses and phone numbers for your banking institutions and credit card companies at home so you can immediately contact them whenever you suspect fraud;
  3. When paying bills through the mail, always personally deposit your mail in your local post office’s outgoing mailbox and never trust other unsecure mailboxes. Keep a list of all bills you’ve mailed along with the dates;
  4. Consider requesting a randomly assigned “S” number for your Massachusetts driver’s license. This will allow you to avoid giving out your social security information each time you must show your license to anyone you’re paying by check;
  5. Carefully review all of your banking and credit card statements each month, looking for any irregularities and unfamiliar transactions.

Once you discover any signs of identity theft or fraud, you must take several immediate steps to safeguard your identity and prevent additional crimes. Here are a few of those steps summarized for you.

First Steps to Take Upon Discovering You’re a Victim of Identity Theft

  • Immediately contact the fraud department of all of your credit card companies and tell them what you’ve discovered. Make sure they place an immediate “freeze” on your account, along with a Fraud Alert;
  • Call your bank and any other financial institutions you conduct business with on a regular basis and tell them what you’ve discovered. Also, ask them to also place a “freeze” on any accounts that are currently in jeopardy of abuse;
  • Since Massachusetts law considers identity theft a crimeM.G.L. c. 266, s. 37E), you must immediately file a police report with your local department;
  • Order copies of all of your credit reports and begin monitoring them closely until you’re certain that all identity theft issues have been resolved. Also, help each of the credit reporting agencies create a proper Identity Theft Report and place it on your account;
  • Review all of the added steps suggested by the Federal Trade Commission on their website that can help you begin fully protecting yourself from further fraud;
  • Consider immediately contacting a private attorney to make sure you’re doing all that’s necessary to protect your rights.

Extortion Laws in Massachusetts

Extortion is legally defined as “the obtaining of property from another induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force.” Though extortion can be committed by any member of the general public, it is often associated with the unlawful taking of money by a government official. Extortion frequently occurs when a government official, such as a police officer or member of a licensing authority, uses governmental power to obtain money or other property from someone, or to compel the victim to do anything against his or her will. Yet, organized crime syndicates are also notorious for committing extortion, threatening harm to a person or business should payment not be made.

Massachusetts Law

In Massachusetts, under Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 265 sec. 25, both written and verbal threats to use official power to obtain property can qualify as extortion; In a case such as this, the threat must be considered to be malicious.   Extortion is a serious felony – it carries anywhere from 2 1/2 to 15 years in jail.

There is a fine line between extortion and blackmail. Though very similar in nature, extortion involves the threat of an illegal act (such as physically harming someone) when demanding money or property; blackmail typically involves a less serious threat (such as divulging personal information about someone).  The Massachusetts extortion law covers any and all threats made in demand for money or personal property. 

Organized Crime

Extortion is one way criminal organizations do business.  A member of a crime outfit might get orders to collect money from certain small business people in a particular neighborhood, and if they refuse to pay up, he could threaten to use violence or damage property.

In a more concrete example, just last year, one of the most prolific organized crime figures in Boston history was indicted on attempted extortion and conspiracy charges.  Howie Winter, former leader of the Winter Hill Gang and predecessor of James “Whitey” Bulger, allegedly tried to extort $35,000 from two men.  Prosecutors said that a man contacted the victims to obtain a $100,000 business loan, which they agreed to.  One month after the borrower stopped paying the victims for the loan, Winter arranged a meeting with the victims, during which Winter told them they each had to pay him $35,000 for loaning the money without his permission. 

In tape recordings, Winter told the victims they would “have some problems if [they didn’t] come up with the money.”  The victims noted that they felt their lives were in danger. This statement shows how a threat doesn’t have to be very explicit to support an extortion charge, but does have to imply malicious intent.

Government Corruption

Public officials have also been known to use their power extortionately.  In a high profile saga of government corruption, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is on trial for federal extortion and fraud charges for allegedly awarding high-dollar city contracts in exchange for nearly $1 million.  A local businessman testified that he contributed around $440,000 to Kilpatrick’s campaign, lifestyle, and to Kilpatrick’s father over a 2-year period, in the hopes that the mayor would support his plan for a riverfront casino. 

Federal prosecutors say that when a government official simply accepts anything knowing that something is expected in return, this constitutes extortion, no matter whether a threat was made or whether the official actually does anything in return. 

In a clearer example of extortion, Kilpatrick’s father allegedly threatened to terminate a $1.2 billion dollar deal with a waste management company if it did not pay him a certain amount of money.   

Extortion can occur in many forms, over a very vast scale. As described, extortion can involve billions of dollars, or very few. The criminal act can be committed by organized criminals, government officials, or everyday citizens. Extortion occurs more often than one might expect, yet the crime should never be taken lightly.