Cocaine Possession Conceded in Lab Tech Trial


[UPDATED] The lawyer for former San Francisco crime lab technician Deborah Madden conceded in closing arguments Monday that she had cocaine in her possession at home, but he rejected more serious allegations that she skimmed cocaine evidence for her personal use.

Madden, a 29-year veteran criminalist, faces charges that between October and December of 2009 she stole small amounts of cocaine from evidence envelopes at the lab and kept them for personal use.

Included in the indictment is the less serious allegation of possession of cocaine, for a vial of the drug found in her home.

The state attorney general’s office declined to prosecute Madden in 2011 finding there was insufficient evidence that she had stolen the drugs.  But the federal grand jury returned an indictment on December 1, 2011, accusing her of obtaining drugs through fraud or misrepresentation.

The revelation that Madden had allegedly removed cocaine from the lab led to audits and eventual shutdown of the drug lab in March 2010.  It also prompted San Francisco prosecutors to dismiss hundreds of drug prosecutions.

“This case is not really about whether Deborah Madden did something wrong,” said Paul DeMeester, her defense attorney.  “She did something wrong.”

“What was found at her home was sufficient for the possession charge,” he conceded.

But he argued that the government failed to show that the 62-year-old Madden used fraud or deception to skim small amounts of cocaine from eight separate evidence envelopes to keep for her own use.

A conviction for simple possession of cocaine carries a maximum one year in prison, while conviction on the more serious charge of obtaining cocaine through subterfuge has a maximum of four years in prison.

He argued that Madden was dealing with personal problems in 2009.   She had a serious drinking problem and “you can see she was falling off that cliff in mid-November,” he said.

Her work production had fallen off and she stayed overtime at the Hunters Point lab to catch up with work, rather than as the government alleges, to steal drugs.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Natalie Lee argued, “The only thing Ms. Madden denies is that she was deceptive.  She has conceded that she took cocaine from the crime lab for her own personal use.”

The largest amount she was accused of taking from any one of the envelopes was just less than four grams, or roughly the size of four sugar packets.

In most cases it was less than a single gram.

Lee said Madden worked late at the lab so she could take cocaine from the lab without being seen.

Even if Madden argues she took small amounts that spilled, “it doesn’t matter.  It is still a crime,” she said.  Lee urged jurors to convict her of the more serious charge of using subterfuge to acquire cocaine.

Case:  U.S. v. Madden, No. CR11-879SI







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