NASA Scientist Charged in Md. With Aiding Wife's Firm

By Maria Glod and Meg Smith
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A prominent NASA scientist from Silver Spring has been charged in federal court in Maryland with using his position for the financial benefit of his wife, who owns a company that develops science exhibits and educational tools.

Mark R. Schoeberl, an atmospheric scientist who has worked at the Goddard Space Flight Center since the 1980s, is charged in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt with one felony count of acts affecting a personal interest.

Schoeberl, who specializes in ozone depletion and wave dynamics, is chief scientist for NASA's Earth Sciences Division, which does climate research. He also is project scientist for the Aura Project, a mission to study ozone, air quality and climate.

Schoeberl's attorney, Jacob S. Frenkel, said his client has made "incredible contributions to the NASA program over three decades."

"This charge reflects a balance between the government's obligation to enforce vigorously conflict-of-interest laws and Dr. Schoeberl's belief in this valuable state-of-the-art educational software," Frenkel said.

A NASA spokesman said Schoeberl has been placed on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the case.

Authorities have released few details about the charge against Schoeberl, but in a one-paragraph charging document, prosecutors allege that as a government worker, he participated in a "matter to which, to his knowledge, his spouse had a financial interest."

Schoeberl's wife, Barbara, owns Animated Earth LLC, which develops and distributes "Earth Today," a museum exhibit that allows people to access data on rainfall, earthquakes and other events displayed on a rotating globe.

From 2006 to 2009, NASA authorized purchase orders worth up to $190,727 for Animated Earth's products and services, according to federal procurement data. It is unclear whether the charge is connected to those purchases.

This month, as part of an investigation run through the NASA inspector general's office, authorities searched the couple's home and seized computer equipment and several cellphones and digital cameras. Authorities also seized documents linked to Animated Earth, including bank records and e-mails that mention the company.

According to a biography posted on NASA's Web site, Mark Schoeberl is an accomplished scientist whose work often appears in journals. He is a past member of the National Academy's Board of Atmospheric Sciences and was awarded NASA's Outstanding Leadership Medal in 1996 and Distinguished Service Award in 2000.

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