INVESTIGATION: US Prosecutor Now Sending Criminal DNA Testing In DC To Lab Run By His Girlfriend
The U.S. attorney who handles DNA and forensics litigation in the District of Columbia stopped sending cases to the city’s independent forensics lab in January, in favor of a private lab run by his girlfriend.
In October of 2014, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ambrosino expressed concerns to the Science Advisory Board about the methods being used in its lab to interpret complex DNA mixtures. The board advises the Department of Forensic Sciences about best practices.
According to a letter sent from the board’s chairman, Irvin Litofsky, to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, four members of the board reviewed the procedures and made revisions to address Ambrosino’s concerns, though the changes weren’t sufficient, because in January the U.S. Attorney’s Office stopped sending new cases to the city’s lab.
Instead, the DNA cases in the city are being handled by Bode Technology, a DNA analysis firm in Virginia. Andrea Borchardt-Gardner is a supervisor of forensic casework at Bode. She is also romantically involved with Ambrosino, according to court documents obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The relationship between Ambrosino and Borchardt-Gardner began in the spring of 2014, according to Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but had “no bearing whatsoever” on the steps taken by the office.
“When the assistant U.S. attorney began that relationship, he disclosed it to ethics officials at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and elsewhere in the Department of Justice,” Miller said. “In an abundance of caution, the U.S. Attorney’s Office publicly disclosed the relationship in court filings when appropriate.”
Miller said Bode has handled overflow and backlog cases for the city since the inception of the city’s forensic lab.
While there appears to be no direct financial incentive for Borchardt-Gardner, an intimate relationship shared between a prosecutor and the supervisor of the lab handling evidence in his cases could present a possible conflict of interest.
“When you have a private lab and you paid them to produce results, you can have a lot of say about what those results are,” a former official in the city’s lab told TheDCNF on the condition of anonymity.
The former official said the city’s independent lab had a policy of global discovery, meaning it had to disclose all its findings to both prosecutors and defense attorneys, but the private Bode lab isn’t required to so.
The close relationship between Ambrosino and Borchardt-Gardner could allow him more access to conversations about analysis results and advance knowledge about how the tests will turn out.
“Those kinds of conversations can happen when the laboratories aren’t independent,” the former official said.
On May 27, another member of the Science Advisory Board resigned after claiming political pressure, not bad science, led to the city lab’s closure.
In the letter to Bowser, Jay Siegel said the firing of lab management was “hasty and unwarranted,” and claimed the decision had little to do with science.
“The actions [Bowser], and I believe the [U.S. Attorney’s Office], have taken in this matter were clearly not based on scientific considerations since the Scientific Advisory Board had no chance to provide advice BEFORE you took such drastic actions,” Siegel wrote.
Since Jan. 12, 95 cases have been sent to Bode for DNA testing, and another 94 have been sent to a crime lab in California called Verdugo Regional Crime Laboratory. Miller couldn’t immediately provide a cost estimate for the work done. (Related: ‘Incompetent’ DC Crime Lab To Cost Another $1 Million)
After the U.S. Attorney’s Office stopped sending cases to the city’s lab, the U.S. Attorney’s Office commissioned an audit, and Bowser commissioned a separate audit by a national accreditation board, to provide reviews of work produced in the lab.
Those audits found the city’s lab to be deficient in its processes and not in compliance with standards set forth by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In Litofsky’s letter to Bowser, he acknowledged the findings in the audits but said urged the mayor not to rush to any judgments.
“It goes without saying that [complex DNA analysis] is no simple matter,” he wrote. “Within the scientific community, there is, to date, no single, universally accepted set of best practices in this, and many other areas.”
Litofsky said he and the rest of the advisory board would review the audits’ findings over the course of a few weeks and, if necessary, reach out to the investigators involved to discuss solutions.
Upon firing the lab’s staff, the mayor appointed the city’s Chief Medical Examiner, Roger Mitchell Jr., as interim director and gave him 30 days to come up with a corrective action plan for all of the lab’s work.
That corrective action period has now passed and the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board, one of the agencies that initially audited the city’s lab, is currently conducting a follow-up audit, Bowser said at a Tuesday press conference.
The city is still looking for permanent leadership to take over at the city’s lab.
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