Cocaine theft trial starts for ex-SFPD drug lab worker

Jury selection began in federal court Monday morning for the trial of a former San Francisco police crime laboratory technician accused of stealing cocaine from the facility.

Deborah Madden, 62, of San Mateo, faces a federal charge of obtaining cocaine by means of fraud, deception or subterfuge in 2009.

The charge carries a possible maximum sentence of four years in prison if she is convicted. The trial is taking place in the court of U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco and is expected to last about four days.

Madden’s alleged theft of small amounts of cocaine from the lab’s drug analysis unit contributed to the San Francisco District Attorney Office’s dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases that depended on evidence from the unit.

Madden retired in late 2009 after 29 years on the job as a civilian criminalist at the lab.

In a separate case, she pleaded guilty in San Mateo County Superior Court last year to possessing a small amount of cocaine found in her Peninsula home. She was sentenced to drug counseling after that plea.

In connection with the San Francisco allegations, Madden admitted to police investigators in 2010 that she took small amounts of cocaine spilled from evidence on five occasions in 2009, according to a public transcript of her interview with the investigators.

But defense attorney Paul DeMeester has said in briefs filed in the federal case that he plans to argue that Madden’s actions did not have the element of fraud or subterfuge required by the U.S. law for a conviction.

Madden is not expected to testify at the trial, according to papers filed by her attorney.

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