EX-NASA official goes on trial for steering money to Miss.

A former high-ranking NASA official went on trial Monday on charges that he steered nearly $10 million to a consulting client and lied about it.
Prosecutors told the jury during opening arguments they would prove Courtney Stadd abused the power of his government office to line his own pockets and mislead ethics officials.
Stadd’s lawyer insisted his client was only carrying out the orders of NASA Administrator Michael Griffin when he insisted in 2005 that $12 million of the money be spent in the state of Mississippi.
The client, Mississippi State University, ended up with $9.6 million of the funds. Afterward, prosecutors said Stadd tried to get the university to raise his fee from $7,000 a month to $10,000 a month, citing his help with the funding.
The alleged violation involves a $15 million earmark that Mississippi’s congressional delegation secured for earth science research. But Johnson said when Mary Cleave, acting director of NASA’s Earth-Sun System Division, decided to conduct a nationwide search for bids, Shaw e-mailed Stadd saying he feared the money would not come to Mississippi and asking if he could “provide some prodding.”
Johnson said the next day Stadd summoned Cleave to his office and told her only $3 million should be put out for nationwide bids. The remaining $12 million, he told Cleave, should go to Mississippi because of an agreement between the state’s congressional delegation and the agency’s previous administrator, Sean O’Keefe.
Stadd’s lawyer, Dorrance Dickens, said Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran had pressured Griffin during his confirmation to uphold O’Keefe’s commitment, and Griffin told Stadd and other senior NASA officials to “get it done.” Griffin is expected to testify in the case.
Dickens said Stadd was trying to walk the line between carrying out Griffin’s orders and complying with ethics rules when he said the money should go to Mississippi, without ever specifying it should go to Mississippi State University. He said Stadd was a respected official at the agency and a rule follower.
“He was sent over from central casting to play the role in geek central,” Dickens told the jury as he pointed at his bespectacled client. “He couldn’t question authority if it were on the other end of a knock-knock joke.”

AP
8/3/9