By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - A former state crime laboratory chemist who handled thousands of cases across Florida over almost a decade was arrested on charges of tampering with evidence and drug trafficking, officials announced late Tuesday.
Investigators believe that, while processing drug cases at the lab, Joseph Graves replaced prescription pain pills with legal over-the-counter medicines.
Graves, who was fired from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's lab in Pensacola late last week, faces charges of grand theft, 12 counts of tampering with evidence or fabricating it, and nine counts of trafficking in illegal drugs.
Bail was set at $290,000.
FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey announced the investigation on Saturday and said evidence tampering could result in some pending cases being thrown out of court, and possibly some convicted drug dealers getting out of prison.
On Monday, FDLE agents began a review of nearly 2,600 cases that Graves handled for 80 different police agencies in 35 counties.
"The actions of Joseph Graves are disgraceful," Bailey said in announcing the arrest. "FDLE is working with State Attorneys' Offices statewide to ensure he is held accountable for his actions."
The FDLE began an investigation after Escambia County sheriff's deputies reported missing evidence. Graves, a crime-lab analyst since late 2005 who was promoted to a supervisory position in mid-2009, was forced to take vacation time.
(Editing by David Adams and Andre Grenon)