Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jury takes up NASA ethics case

WASHINGTON — The case of a former top NASA official, accused of enriching himself and helping a consulting client get $9.6 million in grants, was headed to the jury Thursday.

Courtney Stadd, NASA's former chief of staff and White House liaison, "owed the public and taxpayers his undivided loyalty, but he betrayed that loyalty to line his and his client's pockets," said prosecutor Matthew Solomon in closing arguments.

Defense attorney Dorrance Dickens said Stadd was following his boss' orders on where to send the grant money.

The federal court jury was to began afternoon deliberations in the case of Stadd, accused of breaking ethics laws and lying about it.

Stadd had left NASA in 2003 and started a consulting business, but he returned in 2005 as the agency's interim No. 3 official.

He declined an offer from Mike Griffin, who had just taken over as NASA administrator, to be considered for a permanent position as his deputy. Stadd said he had two daughters to put through college, so he wanted to continue the more lucrative consulting work. But he worked for Griffin for two months to help bring new leadership to the agency, which at the time was still reeling over the Columbia space shuttle disaster and trying to implement President George W. Bush's new space agenda.

Stadd steered $12 million in agency funds for earth science research to the state of Mississippi, and most ended up with one of his clients, Mississippi State University.

Dickens said Stadd directed the money toward Mississippi because Griffin told him to, and that regardless, the state itself wasn't his client. "MSU and Mississippi aren't the same thing," Dickens said. "He didn't think he had a conflict."

Stadd, who lives in Bethesda, Md., faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

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