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Crime & Courts

FDLE lab analyst says he knew he was in trouble


Published:   |   Updated: February 5, 2014 at 05:24 PM

PENSACOLA — A former Florida crime lab analyst accused of stealing and selling painkillers and other drugs told investigators he had problems with his back and knew he was in trouble when confronted in late January about hundreds of painkillers and other pills missing from sealed evidence containers, according to police documents released today.

Joseph Graves, 32, was arrested late Tuesday on charges of stealing and selling drugs he was supposed to be testing as evidence. The affidavit does not specify whether Graves used any of the pills himself.

He was released from the Escambia County Jail on a $290,000 bond Tuesday night. Graves and his attorney have declined numerous interview requests from The Associated Press.

Longtime Pensacola-area defense attorney Randy Etheridge said today he interacted with Graves when the analyst testified as an expert witness or processed evidence in cases that he handled. He said Graves always appeared competent and prof essional.

“The entire legal community around here is shocked by this,” he said.

Graves was arrested a day after he resigned from the position he held since December 2005 at the crime lab in Pensacola. In 2009, he was promoted to supervisor at the lab, which processes criminal evidence for law enforcement agencies throughout Florida. He is charged with grand theft of a controlled substance, 12 counts of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, and nine counts of trafficking in illegal drugs.

He’s accused of selling oxycodone, morphine and hydromorphone.

The 13-page affidavit released today details numerous cases dating from February 2013 through January in which Graves is accused of replacing hundreds of narcotic pills with over-the-counter allergy, laxative, aspirin, homeopathic and other pills.

Investigators have said Graves handled 2,600 cases, most of which are drug-related. The compromised cases could possibly affect 80 law enfor cement agencies in 35 counties.

The department is using agents from each of its offices to review all the cases handled by Graves and has contacted state attorneys and law enforcement agencies across the state that have pending cases that could be compromised.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have said the thefts could create massive problems for courts and law enforcement agencies throughout Florida and could result in some convictions being thrown out and sentences reduced.

The department is reviewing its drug-testing program to try to prevent something similar from happening.

According to the affidavit, investigators first unearthed discrepancies between evidence logs and the contents of sealed evidence containers during a Jan. 21 inventory of drug evidence. In one instance, investigators were reviewing evidence from a Feb. 16, 2013, case in which 147 Oxycontin pills were logged into evidence.

“The quantity of pills appeared to be considerab ly less than 147. Upon closer examination the count of pills in item #9 was found to be 47 round blue pills that were imprinted with L49,” investigators wrote. The pills were discovered to be an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug.

According to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Oxycontin, which is a heavy-duty painkiller, has a street value of about $30 per tablet in Florida, meaning the missing drugs were worth over $4,000.

Investigators found similar problems after reviewing other evidence containers in about a dozen other cases from 2013 and authorities confronted Graves with the evidence on Jan. 31.

According to the affidavit, Graves asked investigators if he could benefit from cooperating in the case.

“Graves never denied taking the pills, and made the statements that he had back problems, he wanted to help them, and the comment or words similar to the effect, ‘I know I am in trouble,’” the affidavit says.

Because Graves bonded out of jail, an initial court appearance set for today was canceled. Future court dates have not yet been set.

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