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Drug evidence allegedly different when returned to FBI

WASHINGTON — An FBI agent accused of evidence tampering repeatedly checked heroin out of an evidence room, returned it at different weights and failed to turn in two guns and marijuana seized in Maryland.

The documents, made public Tuesday, describe for the first time how FBI Agent Matthew Lowry is alleged to have pilfered drugs that were evidence in several criminal cases.

The allegations against Lowry caused federal prosecutors to dismiss charges against at least 28 defendants and notify 150 more that the agent had participated in investigations targeting them.

Lowry’s attorney did not respond to messages seeking comment. Lowry has been suspended amid the criminal investigation but has not been charged. Prosecutors hope to finish the investigation by the end of this month.

The newly released documents were provided by prosecutors to defense attorneys representing 33 defendants in a drug case that Lowry helped investigate but that authorities have said they don’t intend to dismiss, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Eduardo Balarezo, an attorney who represents an alleged drug kingpin in the case, said in court papers that “if Lowry was able to avoid logging seized evidence, remove evidence for extended periods of time or to otherwise mishandle evidence with impunity, it stands to reason that the strict chain of custody claimed by the government in most cases is a sham.”

Prosecutors argue that Lowry had nominal involvement in that particular investigation and that none of the evidence he’s accused of tampering with in that case was used against any of the defendants.

The newly released documents don’t say what Lowry may have done with drugs he checked out of the FBI’s Washington field office evidence room, sometimes using a false signature. In most cases, he eventually took the packages to a Drug Enforcement Administration lab for testing, but authorities now say many came back with weights different from what they were when the packages were taken out.

Sometimes, the documents say, packages were heavier, sometimes slightly lighter. At times, evidence-control stickers on the packages were damaged or altered when they were returned to the FBI, the papers say.

Investigators also discovered that two guns and marijuana seized during a search of a home and car in Maryland were never submitted into evidence. Money and other drugs also went missing from other searches and arrests, authorities said.

The court papers also say Lowry appeared to be under the influence of drugs after he was found inside his unmarked FBI vehicle on Sept. 29 near the Navy Yard in Southeast Washington.