Former NASA official sentenced to probation

AP News
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Posted: Nov 06, 2009 12:41 PM

A former top NASA official was sentenced Friday to three years probation, six months of electronic monitoring and a $2,500 fine for steering contract money to a private client.

Courtney Stadd, of Bethesda, Md., was convicted in August of helping a consulting client _ Mississippi State University _ get nearly $10 million of the space agency's funds.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer rejected the government's suggestion of a one-year prison term. She said it was a "close call" in deciding whether Stadd's conduct was corrupt or a misunderstanding of ethics laws, but added that jury found he ignored his ethical obligations.

The courtroom was nearly filled with dozens of Stadd's supporters, many of whom wrote the judge attesting to his good character.

The jury found that Stadd illegally benefited while on the NASA payroll and lied to ethics officials.

Stadd was NASA's chief of staff and White House liaison from 2001-2003, when he left to start a consulting business _ Capital Solutions _ that specialized in advising aerospace clients.

But he came back for two months in 2005 as the interim No. 3 official at the request of President George W. Bush's newly installed administrator, Mike Griffin, who wanted to reorganize the agency that was still reeling over the Columbia space shuttle disaster.

During that time, he steered $12 million in agency funds for earth science research to the state of Mississippi. His client, Mississippi State, ended up with $9.6 million.

Collyer said that Stadd was fulfilling a congressional earmark _ a targeted appropriation _ that directed the funds to go to Mississippi.

But she added it was clear that if the money was going to the state, it would go to Stadd's client.

"The government called this corrupt and a lack of integrity," Collyer said. "I think it was a closer call than that.

"The jury found that whatever the lack of clarity in ethics briefings, it does not excuse his actions," she said.

After Stadd told the judge he and his family have been devastated by the case, Collyer said that prison time was not needed to protect the public. However, she said, the sentence she imposed would "send a message to other government employees" to conduct themselves with the highest ethical standards.

Stadd, who received a $27,000 payment from the client for his work, told the judge the case was "an irony and paradox" for him, because money and material things "meant little to me."

"I truly did not perceive I was breaking the law," he said. "Had someone told me that at the time, I would have acted differently."

Stadd also must perform 100 hours of community service during the first year of his sentence.