Former NASA Official Is Accused of Steering Money to Private Client

By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 7, 2009

A former top NASA official was indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury for allegedly using a temporary NASA post to steer millions of dollars to one of the clients of his consulting business.

Courtney Stadd, 54, of Bethesda, worked on George W. Bush's 2000 campaign and on the post-election transition at NASA. He went on to serve as NASA's chief of staff and as its White House liaison. Stadd left NASA in 2003 to become a private consultant, but in April 2005, he returned to the agency for a two-month stint as a "special government employee" to help with the transition to a new administrator, Michael Griffin.

Stadd is charged with using his government position to serve his own financial interest, as well as two counts of making false statements. If convicted on all counts, he could face 15 years in prison, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

"Let me defer to my attorney, if I may," Stadd said Friday.

"My client's done absolutely nothing wrong," the lawyer, Dorrance Dickens, said. He said he had not yet read the indictment, which came after a 3 1/2 -year investigation.

The alleged scheme involved a federal budget earmark obtained by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) for $15 million to be spent on earth science. In May 2005, it appeared that the money would be allocated through a national competition, the indictment charged, but Stadd acted to steer the money to one of his clients, Mississippi State University's GeoResources Institute, which has been renamed the Geosystems Research Institute.

The indictment also states that although Stadd informed his NASA superiors in writing that he was recusing himself from any agency activities that might affect his clients, he met in his office with a NASA official, Mary Cleave, and told her that the previous NASA administrator and the Mississippi congressional delegation had agreed to spend the $15 million in Mississippi.

"Following some discussion, [Stadd] ultimately directed Cleave to spend $12 million of the 'earmarked funds' in Mississippi," the indictment states.

Dickens, his attorney, disputed that: "Couldn't have happened, because a special government employee doesn't have that authority."

According to the indictment, Stadd sent an e-mail to a Mississippi State University official saying, "If I intervene anymore then all sorts of red flags will go up and I fear getting MSU and me in trouble."

Stadd left NASA again in late June 2005. In October, the indictment alleges, Stadd asked Mississippi State to raise his compensation from $7,000 a month to $10,000 a month, citing the "revectoring of the outstanding NASA contract to MSU/GRI, and the recovery of the earmarked NASA procurement."

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