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Ex-NASA chief sentenced in contracts conspiracy

GULFPORT, Miss. — A former chief of staff for NASA has been sentenced to federal prison in a case stemming from a $600,000 contract awarded by the space agency to Mississippi State University, a client of his consulting firm.

Courtney Stadd, NASA’s chief of staff and White House liaison from 2001 to 2003, pleaded guilty in August to one conspiracy charge in a nine-count indictment.

Stadd, 55, of Bethesda, Md., was sentenced Thursday to serve 41 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

U.S. Attorney Don Burkhalter and NASA Inspector General Paul K. Martin announced the sentence in a news release. Stadd also was ordered to pay a $7,500 fine and $287,000 in restitution to NASA.

Stadd was indicted in December 2009 on charges that included conspiracy, false statements, false claims, obstructing a grand jury and fraud.

Prosecutors said Stadd conspired with Liam Sarsfield, NASA’s former chief deputy engineer in Washington. Sarsfield pleaded guilty in November 2009 to one charge against him: acts affecting a personal financial interest.

Sarsfield controlled a $1.5 million fund and designed contracts that wouldn’t have to be put out for bid. He steered them where he wanted them to go, including to Mississippi State University and a company in Ohio, prosecutors said, netting himself about $270,000 in illegal profits.

Stadd began conspiring with Sarsfield in 2004 to direct the $600,000 contract to MSU, which then subcontracted $450,000 to Stadd’s consulting business, Capitol Solutions, prosecutors said. The consulting firm allegedly paid Sarsfield $87,752 on that contract.

The contract was for a remote sensing study awarded by NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Miss.

Stadd had already been convicted of an ethics violation for steering a different contract for almost $10 million to the university. He was sentenced last year to three years’ probation in that case.

Stadd started his consulting firm after leaving NASA in 2003, but he returned to the agency for a few months in 2005 as the interim No. 3 official during a reorganization after the Columbia space shuttle disaster.

During that time, Mississippi State ended up with $9.6 million in agency funds for earth science research, authorities said.

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