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Crime lab chemist accused of stealing and selling drug evidence

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Joseph Graves photo from Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement

(CNN) — A former chemist in a Florida crime lab was arrested Tuesday on charges of selling stolen drug evidence that had been switched with over-the-counter medicine, authorities said.

Joseph Graves is accused of grand theft, 12 counts of tampering with evidence and nine counts of drug trafficking, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said in a written statement. Authorities say he replaced prescription drugs held as evidence with medicine that could be bought without a prescription.

“The actions of Joseph Graves are disgraceful,” Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner Gerald Bailey said.

Officials have said the disclosure could affect some drug convictions in dozens of Florida counties.

Graves was arrested at the Escambia County Jail and a judge set bail at $290,000. Additional charges are possible, the news release said.

Gretl Plessinger, chief spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, told CNN on Saturday that the chemist worked 2,600 cases for 80 law enforcement agencies in 35 Florida counties and 12 judicial circuits over the past eight years. Plessinger pointed out that it was 1% of the volume of evidence handled by the lab.

The investigation began last week when investigators discovered missing prescription pain pills from the evidence room at the Escambia County sheriff’s office, authorities said. The missing prescription drugs had been replaced with over-the-counter medications.

On Thursday, investigators determined that each case with missing prescription drugs had been analyzed by Graves, and authorities opened a criminal investigation.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said her office would assist in the investigation.

“Our battle against prescription drug abuse in Florida has been very successful over the last three years, and I will not tolerate any actions that compromise our continued success in ridding our state of this problem,” Bondi said in a statement.