Ex-NASA official pleads guilty to contract-steering

by Associated Press

Published: March 9,2010

Tags: education, federal contracts, NASA

GULFPORT — A former high-ranking NASA official has pleaded guilty in Mississippi to designing contracts in a way that netted him more than $270,000 in illegal profits.

Liam P. Sarsfield, a former chief deputy engineer in Washington, D.C., controlled a $1.5-million fund and designed contracts that wouldn’t have to be put out for bid. He steered the contracts where he wanted them to go, including to Mississippi State University and a company in Ohio, prosecutors said yesterday.

Authorities say some of the money ended up in the hands of another top NASA official who faces nine felony charges in U.S. District Court in South Mississippi, home to NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

Courtney A. Stadd, NASA’s chief of staff and White House liaison from 2001 to 2003, is charged with steering contracts to his consulting firm’s clients, including the university, which scored a $600,000 contract to study remote sensing technology.

Prosecutors say the men conspired.

Sarsfield’s attorney, Peter H. Barrett, said he had no comment because the matter is pending. Stadd’s attorney, Dorrance Dickens, didn’t immediately respond to messages.

Sarsfield, 54, pleaded guilty in November to the one charge against him — acts affecting a personal financial interest — but the entire case was sealed by U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden in Gulfport until recently.

Sarsfield is to be sentenced June 24 in Gulfport.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office would not comment on whether Sarsfield is cooperating with authorities in the case against Stadd. However, Sarsfield was charged in a criminal information, which is filed by prosecutors when the defendant has agreed to waive grand jury indictment and plead guilty. They are often used when a defendant is cooperating.

Stadd, 55, pleaded not guilty Jan. 11 to charges that include conspiracy, false statements, false claims, obstructing a grand jury and fraud. He is scheduled for trial May 10.

When he was arraigned, prosecutors said Stadd conspired with a deputy chief engineer to direct $600,000 to Mississippi State University, which then subcontracted $450,000 to Stadd’s consulting business, Capitol Solutions.

The consulting firm allegedly paid Sarsfield $87,752 on that contract, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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

Mississippi State University spokeswoman Maridith Geuder has said it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment because the case involves a criminal prosecution.

Prosecutors said Sarsfield also guided a $400,000 study to Universal Technology Corporation of Dayton, Ohio, through a pre-existing U.S. Air Force contract. Sarsfield was subsequently paid over $184,000 for work he performed on the contract, prosecutors said.

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