Pubdate: Fri, 29 Sep 2000
Source: Charleston Gazette (WV)
Copyright: 2000 Charleston Gazette
Contact:  1001 Virginia St. E., Charleston, WV 25301
Fax: (304) 348-1233
Author: Lawrence Messina


A civilian chemist placed on leave from the State Police crime lab's 
now-closed drug section will plead guilty to a felony charge alleging he 
faked tests on drug evidence, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

Todd Owen McDaniel, 31, skipped preliminary tests on suspected marijuana 
evidence at the lab's Drug Identification Section from 1993, after he 
started at the lab, until he was placed on leave Sept. 8, U.S. District 
Court filings in his case said.

McDaniel, of Charleston, also failed to perform similar tests on suspected 
crack cocaine evidence in at least five cases between July and August, the 
filings by prosecutors said.

McDaniel has agreed to plead guilty to a charge alleging he mailed a lab 
report to the State Police detachment at Hamlin in February 1998 which 
concluded "a positive identification of marijuana" on drug evidence that he 
knew "was false and misleading in that he had not performed all of the 
tests required."

McDaniel engaged in "a scheme to defraud the state of West Virginia and its 
citizens of his loyal, honest and faithful services," U.S. Attorney Rebecca 
Betts said at a news conference Thursday.

Prosecutors filed a type of criminal charge called an information Thursday 
along with a motion asking a judge to set a plea hearing for McDaniel. 
Filed in lieu of a grand jury indictment, an information indicates that a 
defendant has reached a plea agreement.

Betts' news conference outlined the case against McDaniel and put it in 
context. In the wake of the drug lab's shutdown and investigation, both 
state and federal drug investigations have been disrupted. With the 
investigations under wraps, lawyers and court officials know little of what 
forced the drug section to close.

The State Police and FBI have been separately investigating the drug 
section's work. "The United States does not at this time possess evidence 
that any controlled substance has been falsely identified as a result of 
the analyses conducted by Mr. McDaniel or anyone else in the drug section," 
Betts said, adding that the investigations continue.

McDaniel and his lawyer did not return messages requesting comment 
Thursday. McDaniel has not responded to repeated requests for comment since 
the Gazette identified him last week as the subject of scrutiny at the lab. 
He is not in custody.

Following Thursday's charges, lawyers who represent people charged with 
federal drug crimes say they still feel in the dark about what happened at 
the lab.

"If the investigation is ongoing, why should we be completely satisfied 
that there were not false identifications? " asked First Assistant U.S. 
Public Defender Ed Weis. "We just don't have any information with which to 
either disagree or agree with that conclusion. Without complete access to 
all of the information, I cannot make an independent judgment that the drug 
identification and weights are accurate."

The drug section tests nearly all of the drug evidence seized in West 
Virginia in both state and federal drug cases. Preliminary tests check 
evidence for the presence of drugs, and more sophisticated tests confirm 
positive results. The lab's tests also assess purity and weight of drugs. 
The section handled evidence from 4,488 cases last year.

McDaniel sparked the investigations and shutdowns when a trooper colleague 
found Sept. 7 that he was listing that he had performed more tests in a 
given day than could reasonably be performed, the Gazette has been told. 
McDaniel was placed on leave the next day. State Police officials contacted 
the FBI, and the investigations began. The lab was closed and its four 
remaining staff - three troopers and a civilian - were placed on paid leave 
Sept. 14.

The investigations prompted Betts to ask a judge to initially postpone most 
hearings for drug cases, filing a written request that was then sealed. 
Those suspended cases have since been put back on the court's calendar. The 
request was unsealed Thursday.

"Essentially, there has been credible evidence to indicate that at least 
one of the chemists in the West Virginia State Police drug analysis 
laboratory has falsified results of drug analysis," the request said. 
"Further investigation needs to be conducted in order to determine whether 
the results of the analysis are valid. "
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