Tampa, Florida - It sounds like the plot of a CSI episode: a chemist is accused of replacing Oxycodone pills with aspirin at a crime lab, jeopardizing drug cases.
But, this drama is real.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating 2,600
cases over an eight year period. FDLE announced the investigation Saturday, with Commissioner Gerald
Bailey providing details about the Pensacola-based chemist who handled cases involving 80 law
enforcement agencies from 35 counties since he was hired in 2006.
However, his identity has not been revealed. He is no longer at FDLE; he is on paid leave and he has hired a lawyer.
Many questions remain: was this chemist allegedly using the pills for personal use? For trafficking? An intense, thorough investigation is well underway and could take a very long time, sources say.
The massive investigation is in its infancy stages, and it is not immediately clear how many cases have been compromised. However, Commissioner
Bailey says this could possibly mean drug charges will have to be dropped. It is also possible that prisoners could be released if it's determined the chemist tampered with evidence.
In the Bay area, Hernando County has been affected and four of its cases are now in question. Hernando Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Michael Maurer tells 10 News, "It is disheartening. FDLE is a top notch agency. Background checks are done. It's a big event."
When we asked what the Hernando Sheriff's Office is expecting from this far-reaching investigation, Chief Deputy Maurer said, "There's a lot of investigation that needs to be done. FDLE has a lot of work to do. We don't know what cases of ours are affected yet."
Pasco County has roughly seven cases under review. However, Sheriff Chris Nocco says he does not want to comment on specifics while FDLE is investigating. Sumter County has also been affected, but the agency declined to say how many cases are of concern, only to say "several" are being looked at in this investigation.
Defense attorney Mike Mastrogiovanni says this breach opens the door for all kinds of problems.
"The integrity of this chemist has to be looked into. Any cases he's been involved with, people have to be notified. This doesn't just affect drug cases. Any case he's touched, it will have to be looked at. This could open Pandora's Box."