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Ex-NASA official's conviction for steering contracts upheld

HANCOCK COUNTY — A federal appeals court in the District of Columbia Friday upheld the conviction of a former chief of staff for NASA 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 federal district court in Gulfport in Aug. 2010 to one conspiracy charge in a nine-count indictment.

Stadd, of Bethesda, Md., was sentenced to serve 41 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Stadd was indicted in Dec. 2009 on charges that included conspiracy, false statements, false claims, obstructing a grand jury and fraud.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected Stadd’s claim that the government’s evidence didn’t support his conviction. The panel said the evidence showed Stadd took a personal interest in the distribution of the funds and particularly in steering funds to Mississippi State.

Prosecutors said Stadd conspired with Liam Sarsfield, NASA’s former chief deputy engineer in Washington. Sarsfield pleaded guilty in Nov. 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.

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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