FDLE: Cases under review after chemist stole drug evidence

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Thousands of Florida criminal cases are under review after a chemist with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement stole prescription pain pills from an evidence room and swapped them out with over-the-counter pills, officials announced Saturday.

Commissioner Gerald Bailey said the investigation began when authorities with the Escambia County Sheriff's Office noticed the prescription pills were missing from the agency's evidence room. The chemist, who works in FDLE's Pensacola Regional Crime Laboratory, allegedly stole the pain pills and replaced them with over-the-counter medications.

The chemist handled nearly 2,600 cases from 35 counties, including Osceola, Marion and Lake, since he was hired in 2006, according to officials.

It's not immediately clear how many cases have been compromised, but Bailey said it potentially means drug charges will have to be dropped and prisoners released if determined the chemist tampered with evidence.

The chemist, who was not identified, is on paid leave while a criminal investigation continues. Bailey he said he hopes charges are brought quickly, at which point the chemist will be fired.