Stadd sentenced to prison

Former NASA chief of staff Courtney Stadd was sentenced Thursday to 41 months in prison on a conspiracy charge. Stadd had entered a guilty plea on the charge in August, stemming from allegations that he had conspired in 2004 and 2005 with NASA deputy chief engineer Liam Sarsfield to direct business to Mississippi State University, a client of Stadd’s consulting business. The case is separate from a federal ethics case last year, in which Stadd was sentenced to probation.

12 comments to Stadd sentenced to prison

  • CharlesHouston

    Fools rush in…

    I wonder if this is another example of someone who got so high in the organization that they decided that the rules no longer applied to them? The “Darleen Dryun” syndrome, after the DoD acquisitions official that tried to direct a contract to Boeing?

  • Major Tom

    If you know or knew him, it’s hard to reconcile Stadd’s repeated offenses and convictions with his intelligence, dedication, and humble demeanor. I’d like to think that he was driven to cross these lines because he needed to fund his kids’ educations or some other urgent family need, rather than sheer greed or stupidity. But if it’s the latter, then the Stadd I knew was an act.

    Same goes for Sarsfield. The guy was smart enough to lead the last major rewrite of NASA’s program management guidelines and the first major critique of Goldin’s faster/better/cheaper philosophy. He was gutsy, but you never doubted his incisiveness and his dedication to making NASA better. With no kids like Stadd, it’s even harder to understand what could have possibly driven Sarsfield to go down this path.


  • Bennett

    And how is this different from Orrin Hatch and ATK?

    Technically, sure, but in principle?

  • Major Tom

    “And how is this different from Orrin Hatch and ATK?”

    Shuttle and Ares are terminated so Hatch hasn’t been successful in bringing home the bacon. Stadd was.


  • SpaceGreg

    One wonders if there are any investigative reporters left on this planet.

    Stadd pleads to conspiracy and no one else is similarly charged. Stadd is sentenced for two crimes within a year and both are related to MSU. Stadd is charged six years after the crime occurred, just before the statute of limitations would otherwise expire. Stadd is sent to jail with more time than Jack Abramoff. Anyone else smell dead fish around here?

    When did all this happen? Let’s see. If memory serves, right around the time O’Keefe was booted out and Griffin took the NASA helm. And along with Griffin in walks Stadd (oh, and Sarsfield too – ain’t it amazin’). Stadd was fired by O’Keefe in 2001. Definitely a dust up going on inside of NASA I would say. Now add the befouled NASA IG Moose Cobb to the mix. Cobb was repeatedly investigated and accused of being an O’Keefe crony and incompetent tyrant. O’Keefe was also investigated for malfeasance and was later sacked from LSU (gee, Louisiana – O’Keefe’s home town and the state right next to good ‘ole Mississippi, what a coincidence!). O’Keefe and Cobb were stepchildren of Dick Chaney and, naturally, neither were prosecuted. And who would have led the investigation against Stadd? – you guessed it, Cobb.

    Prosecution or persecution? None of the facts makes a lot of sense. Stadd, who’s not a registered lobbyist, was sentenced for steering an earmark while in his NASA position. Okay maybe that’s a no-no, but a criminal charge is way out of line. Sarsfield pled guilty to a conflict of interest charge which also makes no sense. NASA offered him a personal sole-source contract in 2005 worth a lot of money which he turned down. I guess we’re supposed to believe he was too busy stealing money from the same agency. Then six years after the “crime” Sarsfield suddenly pleads guilty and Stadd is immediately indicted – again. This reads like a dime store detective novel.

    And speaking of ATK; wasn’t it Griffin who quickly ditched the O’Keefe/Steidle plan. Let’s see, a few billion to ATK for a rocket to nowhere; the same company which otherwise would have taken a shellacking from the termination of Shuttle.

    Money and politics, a crushing combination – especially if your name happens to be Courtney

  • HematiteB

    One could interpret the corruption of two previously apparently decent men, Stadd and Sarsfield, as stemming from a “culture of corruption” and an increase in “moral hazard” during the reign of the Bush/Cheney/Rove/Abramoff/etc. junta. And, SpaceGreg, you probably should look to the accuracy of your own data before posting.

    1. Stadd was not the only one charged in connection with directing uncompeted contracts to MSU. Liam Sarsfield was also charged, found guilty, and was sentenced on 9/27/10.

    2. Your memory in fact does not serve you, SpaceGreg, or us. I think you should check your data before posting inaccuracies in public comments.
    2000 Dec: Stadd named to head the Presidential transition team to oversee leadership changes at NASA
    2001 Jan 20: Bush sworn in
    2001 Jan 22: Stadd becomes NASA Chief of Staff and NASA White House Liason
    2001 Jan: Goldin says he’ll continue as interim NASA Administrator; O’Keefe becomes Deputy Director of Office of Management and Budget for Bush admin.
    11 months pass: in July ’01, “realignment” of NASA HQ begins, assigned to Stadd, Dan Mulville and Chris Christensen
    2001 Dec 21: O’Keefe, nominated by Bush, replaces Goldin as NASA Administrator
    1.5 more years pass: retirements and resignations by NASA leaders with decades of NASA and technical experience. “Realignments”, replacements and appointments galore by Bush administration – many/most not from NASA, but from military, government security agencies, commercial aerospace, or partisan service organizations.

    2003 May: Stadd announces he’s leaving NASA, to return to the private sector
    almost 2 years pass: around and after 2004 elections, there is turnover in Bush-selected bureaucrats.
    2005 Mar: Griffin nominated by Bush to replace O’Keefe as NASA Administrator

    Your timeline is way off, SpaceGreg. At least get your facts straight before posting.

  • Bennett

    SpaceGreg and Sir MT,

    Thanks for the stuff.

    SpaceGreg, you rock.

  • Why aren’t we instead asking ourselves how Courtney Stadd got off nearly scott-free in our (corrupt) nation’s capital whereas down in the Old South (which previously tried to become its own country) a different outcome emerged in his related but distinct criminal prosecution?

    Anyhow, as a former prosecuting attorney, I vaguely recall that Jack Abramoff helped the prosecutors save time and money by offering information (if not testimony, too) against others whom the prosecution subsequently pursued. In contrast, Courtney Stadd was accused of obstructing justice when he was investigated. That the sentences would vary somewhat for the two makes some sense, does it not?

    While I’m intrigued with a good conspiracy theory just as much as some fellow space reformers who are similarly as impatient about how our stellar dreams from childhood STILL aren’t being realized, even as our country goes further bankrupt (http://www.usdebtclock.org ), the concerns raised in this original post don’t particularly resonate with me. I’ve personally interacted various times with Sean O’Keefe, Walt Anderson, Dick Cheney, and Courtney Stadd. SpaceGreg’s posting above says Stadd was fired by O’Keefe in 2001. Not true. For starters, as Hermatite B mentioned, Dan Goldin ran NASA for nearly all of 2001. Courtney Stadd lingered around NASA HQ well beyond then.

    Anyway, it was under O’Keefe’s watch that NASA’s admirable (albeit still underfunded, thanks mainly to Congress) Centennial Challenges competitive prizes program emerged. It’s a pro-entrepreneurial reform that makes it tougher for NASA insiders and cronies to engage in self-dealing like that for which Courtney Stadd has recently been sentenced. Who supported this reform, more, between O’Keefe (formerly #2 at the Office of Management & Budget) and Stadd (who had been adjudicated as, and who has formally admitted to, having been on-the-take at taxpayers’ expense)? Still, was there really significant tension between O’Keefe and Stadd, or did Stadd depart so he could make far more money in the private sector prior to his kids’ departure for college? That was the same reason O’Keefe cited in 2005 for departing from NASA, and yet does anyone assert that O’Keefe was fired?

    In moving along, the main posting above mentions how Cobb was repeatedly accused of stuff. Was he convicted or formally adjudicated as culpable though? Accusations fly out all the time in a semi-open democracy like ours. Why aren’t we scrutinizing more thoroughly why we forced taxpayers to finance a second criminal prosecution of Courtney Stadd(for a related transaction) when one such prosecution should have been enough, were it not for a politically motivated D.C. federal judge’s providing him sentencing leniency while sheltering herself with letters from all sorts of D.C. insiders who conveniently backed Courtney Stadd during the sentencing stage of his first trial? Even the D.C. jury had ruled against Stadd rapidly and decisively.

    George W. Bush (whom I aggressively supported in 2000) campaigned as a fiscal conservative during the late 1990′s. And yet during his 8 years in office, we saw the USA’s national debt DOUBLE even as the Defense Department’s share of the budget was only around 12% during any given year. We saw some peculiar inconsistencies emerge from his mostly Republican-controlled government, and Stadd’s prosecution comes as little surprise to me. What did Stadd personally do at NASA to actually help the overall private sector, instead of his own private business endeavors?

    It’s been said that space activists get targeted, and an example I’ve recently seen raised is Walt Anderson, as distinguished from the genuinely tax-evading Congressman Charles Rangel. That point is VERY well taken. Judging from http://www.justiceforwalt.com, it seems that Walt had to plead guilty to avoid potentially being sentenced for many decades more amidst a legal system that was encroaching upon his rights on a frequent, if not daily basis. To think that Charles Rangel could get off with a mere censure makes me wonder for how much longer Washington D.C. can stave off growing secessionist movements in other parts of the current U.S. of A. Baby-boomers are about to retire in droves soon, and their demanding of entitlements payments will push taxpayers to the brink. It was my view that the USA’s best bet to avoid the worsening fiscal crisis was to make the NASA monopoly more pro-entrepreneurial. Bush came into office preaching about the importance of “competitive sourcing”. What did his liaison Courtney Stadd tangibly do to make NASA more pro-entrepreneurial? Does the answer help reveal why some still defend him despite the verdict of a trial by his peers as well as his own formal admissions?

  • Robbie Boswell

    This is a fascinating discussion. As a defense attorney I find this to be a very interesting case.

    Having worked as a NASA advisor I know Space Greg’s comments are correct, Courtney Stadd was indeed fired by Sean O’Keefe. He definitely wanted Courtney Stadd out and replaced with a guy he knew from Navy days. I don’t understand the comments about our corrupt nation’s capital and the Old South, such generalizations seem out of place. Isn’t it obvious that Courtney Stadd was prosecuted twice to ensure he’d wind up in jail? Somebody definitely wanted to bury the guy.

    It is very unusual to prosecute someone twice on somewhat related matters. Judicial efficiency would demand a combined prosecution and collecting counts. Clearly this didn’t happen here. I’ve seen this before. You hit a person once to label them a criminal and then hit them again to ensure he can’t escape jail time. So I’m forced to agree with Space Greg; someone definitely was out to get Courtney Stadd. I don’t understand how a former prosecuting attorney could misread the ruling in the first matter Courtney Stadd was charged with. The judge ruled in a case involving a first offender with a exemplary record and the ruling was fair. But the second time at bat presented a different judge with a convicted felon facing a conspiracy charge. The second judge’s ruling pretty much followed the book.

    While the judges rulings regarding Courtney Stadd are easy to understand, the underlying reasoning for the two prosecutions remains unclear. One thing seems certain, Courtney Stadd wasn’t prosecuted as part of some Republican backlash. As pointed out above, the government spent a lot of money prosecuting Courtney Stadd, that opens many questions as to what would justify such a protracted investigation and prosecution.

    Former NASA IG Robert Cobb would have directed the investigation of a former senior official. Cobb’s record is, therefore, highly relevant. Robert Cobb was a very controversial character and a Congressional investigation established his close relationship with O’Keefe. The President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency determined that Cobb abused his authority on numerous occasions. These are not imaginary findings, they are the result of lengthy deliberations. If Courtney Stadd and Sean O’Keefe were enemies it is hardly a stretch to reason that Cobb would be dispatched to punish him.

    None of this discussion explains Courtney Stadd’s behavior. It is quite right to point out he was convicted by a jury in one case and pled guilty in another. Did he commit criminal acts? It seems clear that he did, but did his acts rise to the level of such a major prosecution and serious sentence?

    As Space Greg suggests, the first case brought against Courtney Stadd, though successful for the government, was a stretch. The government has many faster and less expensive ways to redress bad behavior short of resorting to a criminal prosecution. In the second case Courtney Stadd reached an agreement with the government and accepted a plea. Many people are forced to plead guilty because they simply don’t have the resources to fight accusations. This would certainly have been the case for Courtney Stadd having just paid to defend himself on the first set of charges.

    By my counting the government spent six years pursuing Courtney Stadd, a process that must have consumed millions of dollars. While the government is responsible for identifying and correcting criminal behavior balance is required. I find it hard to escape concluding that Courtney Stadd’s criminal acts were disproportionately punished. It’s likely that there’s more to this than meets the eye.

  • Robbie:
    Stadd left NASA swiftly after breaking in Mike Griffin, as well. Was he fired then, too? I don’t pretend to have special knowledge about whether or not Stadd was fired by O’Keefe, but I do recall how at the time of his departure from the O’Keefe administration, a trusted friend told me that Stadd (a trusted friend of hers) really was tired of the pay-cut. It’s becoming increasingly clear that he was ready for some pay-out, but anyway…

    I think we agree to disagree on whether the (political appointee) D.C. federal judge behaved opportunistically (if not corruptly) by giving Stadd merely probation after the jury overwhelmingly convicted him the first time around.

    As for:

    >>>I don’t understand the comments about our corrupt nation’s capital and the Old South, such generalizations seem out of place.

    As they say during first year law school “res ipsa loquitur”. What’s out of place is Washington D.C.’s continued imperialistic imposition on productive taxpayers nationwide in exchange for so very little from agencies like NASA. If NASA’s $20 billion annually went to offering competitive prizes instead, you could buy me an affordable one-way ticket to Mars and be forever done with me :-) Seriously though, what was the federal income tax rate a century ago? 0%. Were we still like that, Walt Anderson could be a free man. Presumably you remember how the U.S.S.R. treated its own entrepreneurs before predictably collapsing. Are we not doing something similar? http://www.usdebtclock.org Anyhow:

    Might you perhaps know who (between Stadd and Sean O’Keefe) more greatly favored (or disfavored) NASA’s launching its flagship competitive prizes program now at http://www.challenge.gov ? Perhaps you’ve heard about pro-entrepreneurial inclinations about which they may have debated during their time together. Everyone has unique insights to contribute in this discussion, and yours are certainly interesting.

  • Robbie Boswell

    The point that Courtney Stadd was interested in making money was certainly proven true since he’s been twice convicted of stealing it. I’m not trying to defend his behavior. I’m drawing attention to the fact he was subjected to a very heavy hand. This does not happen without cause.

    The relationship between Courtney Stadd and Sean O’Keefe was acrimonious; my knowledge of this is firsthand. I’m relying on public sources to establish the inappropriate relationship between Sean O’Keefe and Robert Cobb.

    I believe Courtney Stadd was not justly treated, but pointing at the action of the judges in these matters misses the point and ignores the facts. The first judge he faced, Rosemary Collyer, was fairy new to the bench with little criminal experience. She did, however, follow the rules and issued a sentence that took into account Courtney Stadd’s fine record. I believe she correctly balanced compassion and the need for a just accounting. The DC Court is well known for its scrupulous bench. None of my clients have ever been unfairly treated by this Court. You do this body an injustice through claims of Beltway bias.

    In Mississippi, Courtney Stadd was brought before the 5th Circuit Court. The judge in this case, Sul Ozerden, a younger, more experience criminal trial judge, again issued a ruling within the recommended bounds. This circuit has heard hundreds of Katrina-related criminal prosecutions and has a history of conservative rulings. Let us not forget that Courtney Stadd’s crimes occurred during Katrina. This undoubtedly factored into his considerations regarding accepting a plea. A Washington-based government official accused of stealing money during Katrina is going to have a tough time in a Mississippi courtroom regardless of how carefully the judge runs his courtroom.

    If Courtney Stadd did not receive a fail deal it was not because of what happened in the courtroom. His crimes are serious ones. In the first trial the public record indicates that NASA was straddled with $427 million in earmarks in 2005, and Courtney Stadd argued he was instructed by Administrator Griffin to handle them. Yet he only handled one earmark. The earmark in question provides no direction as to how to distribute funds, but Courtney Stadd intervened to steer funds to one specific university who happened to be his client at the time.

    In the second case the root of the crime is fraud; he stole money from the government by overcharging MSU, the responsible contract holder. The amount of money in question is significant enough to suggest MSU was either poorly managing these funds or fully aware of Stadd’s actions. Yet no one at MSU was ever charged with a crime. This usually indicates MSU was cooperating with the government.

    So Courtney Stadd committed multiple crimes, but are they weighty enough to justify an investigation of this scope, duration and cost? In my experience I do not think so. These are not petty offenses, but Stadd is no master criminal. He’s a greedy bureaucrat and ham-fisted felon. Yes, punish him; but spending millions on a prosecutorial campaign is a horrid waste of judicial resources. As a citizen I find this offensive.

    Which leads us back to the proper question: how can you explain decisions made in the matters of U.S. v Stadd? I can think of two possible explanations. Stadd could have been involved in more illicit activities than we know about building determination at NASA and DOJ to shut him down and appropriately punish him. Or Cobb, at best a malicious official, pursued Stadd with personal zeal and animus. Perhaps elements of both are true.

    I find compelling the fact that Courtney Stadd re-emerged at the exact moment administrative power transitioned at NASA and the agency executed an about-face on a multi-billion dollar program, a decision that led to the calamitous Constellation program. Stadd’s two crimes occurred at this instant in time. I’ve served too long to believe is such coincidences.

  • Observer

    Someone should talk to Liam Sarsfield’s former wives about how “decent” he was. One face in public, another face behind closed doors, same giant ego. And then he ratted out Stadd. Real upstanding guy.

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