Nassau crime lab evidence review expanded

An undated file photo from the forensic evidence An undated file photo from the forensic evidence lab at Police Department headquarters in Mineola. Photo Credit: NCPD

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Expanding efforts to uncover testing mistakes at Nassau County's closed police crime lab, the medical examiner's office will review 105 cases involving firearms, questionable documents and bits of crime scene evidence like fibers and hair.

State Inspector General Ellen Biben has approved lab director Pasquale Buffolino's plan to review paperwork for a random selection of cases between 2007 and 2010.

After an eight-month investigation, Biben issued a report Nov. 10 calling for an expanded review of the lab's evidence testing. Buffolino's blueprint is in response to Biben's recommendation.

"Considering the extent of the problems that were uncovered at the lab, a review of the other disciplines practiced there is the appropriate and responsible course of action," said Biben spokesman John Milgrim.

If the review uncovers discrepancies, evidence will be sent to an independent lab for retesting.

Katie Grilli-Robles, a spokeswoman for County Executive Edward Mangano, said the review represents 10 percent of cases with evidence related to firearms, documents and trace materials.

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A national rating agency, ASCLD/LAB, placed the lab on probation last December after discovering slipshod drug testing and other evidence foul-ups. Mangano closed the lab on Feb. 18 and transferred responsibility for it to Buffolino, who is employed by the medical examiner's office.

Buffolino plans to hire outside forensic consultants to conduct the latest review. He would not estimate the cost.

"The time required for a case review is dependent upon the number of items examined and the complexity of each examination," Buffolino said. "There is no way of predicting the total hours required."

The county in March began sending drugs from as many as 3,000 past felony cases to the private NMS Labs in Pennsylvania for retesting at a cost of $100,000 monthly. In October, District Attorney Kathleen Rice said drug retesting would be expanded to include misdemeanors.

Special Deputy Inspector General Philip Foglia, who headed Biben's probe, told Buffolino in a Dec. 20 letter that if the review finds serious problems, further examination of past cases must continue "until the root cause of the issues are determined."

Joseph Lo Piccolo, president of the Nassau County Criminal Courts Bar Association, said: "We feel this should have been done initially when they shut the lab last February."

Garden City attorney Brian Griffin, who represented a Hicksville woman whose drunken driving conviction was thrown out because of lab problems, said a new review is not enough. "Reviewing but not retesting the work of those that the DA has publicly stated may have engaged in a 'cover-up' is meaningless," Griffin said.

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