Former NASA Deputy Chief Engineer Liam Sarsfield faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced in federal court June 27 for abusing his government procurement authority to design study contracts that netted him more than $270,000 shortly after leaving the U.S. space agency in 2005.
Sarsfield, 54, pleaded guilty in November to one count of acts affecting a personal financial interest, but his case was sealed by U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden in Gulfport, Miss., who said that releasing the information would jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation.
Former NASA Chief of Staff Courtney Stadd was indicted by a federal grand jury three weeks later, on Dec. 2, on charges related to a $600,000 study contract Sarsfield allegedly steered toward Stadd’s consulting client, Mississippi State University. Stadd pleaded not guilty Jan. 11 to the nine-count indictment and was scheduled to go to trial March 1. The office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, Donald Burkhalter, told Space News that Stadd’s trial has been moved to May 10 at Stadd’s request.
Stadd, 55, was convicted in 2009 of breaking ethics laws by steering nearly $10 million in NASA funds to Mississippi State when he returned to the agency in mid-2005 for a two-month stint as a special government employee. He was fined $2,500 in November and sentenced to three years of probation and six months of house arrest.
The new charges against Stadd include allegations that the Bethesda, Md.-based consultant conspired with Sarsfield to line up NASA contracts for existing or prospective clients and submitted inflated invoices and altered documents investigators sought under a January 2006 subpoena.
As a NASA deputy chief engineer at the agency’s Washington headquarters between October 2002 and January 2005, Sarsfield controlled a $1.5 million discretionary fund intended for various research studies initiated by the Office of Chief Engineer. Sarsfield “used a majority of the $1.5 million he controlled to initiate several studies that financially benefited himself and others,” according to a press release the U.S. attorney issued March 8 announcing Sarsfield’s unsealed plea.
One of those studies was a $600,000 assessment of U.S. remote sensing capabilities that was awarded without competition to Mississippi State University through an existing contract with the Mississippi Research Consortium. According to the press release, Mississippi State subcontracted $450,000 to Stadd’s consulting business, Capitol Solutions, which subsequently paid Sarsfield $87,000 between January and October 2005 for work he performed on the study.
Sarsfield also received $184,000 for work he performed on a NASA-funded launch systems study awarded to Universal Technology Corp. of Dayton, Ohio, through a pre-existing U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory contract. Sarsfield was involved in creating the statement of work for the study contract and transferring the first $100,000 to the Air Force in late 2004, according to the U.S. attorney’s press release. Shortly thereafter, Stadd became a consultant to Universal, according to Stadd’s indictment.