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NASA scientist's espionage attempt results in 13-year prison sentence

On Wednesday, Stewart Nozette, a high-profile former government scientist, was sentenced to 13 years for espionage after passing secrets to an FBI agent posing as an Israeli spy. He was also fined for tax evasion.

By Nora Doyle-BurrContributor / March 21, 2012

Employees of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, stand near the west gate entrance of the laboratory in Livermore, Calif. in 1999. A former employee of the lab, Stewart David Nozette, was sentenced for espionage and tax evasion on Wednesday, March 21, 2012.

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

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A high-profile former government scientist was sentenced Wednesday for attempted espionage, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and tax evasion.

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Former NASA scientist, Stewart David Nozette, was sentenced to 13 years in prison. In addition, he is required to pay $217,000 to the government.

This penalty delivered by the US District Court for the District of Columbia includes two cases. Nozette pleaded guilty in September to providing classified information to a person he believed to be an Israeli intelligence officer, who was actually an FBI agent. He also pleaded guilty in January 2009 to fraud and tax charges.

Stewart Nozette's greed exceeded his loyalty to our country” said Ronald C. Machen Jr., US Attorney for the District of Columbia, in a Department of Justice press release.

Nozette has a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he helped to discover water ice on the south pole of the moon.

"He was a very solid scientist," Craig Covault, editor at large for SpaceFlightNow.com, told the Washington Times in Oct. 2009.

As early as 1989, Nozette held positions within the US government that garnered prestige and access to sensitive information. His positions included work with the White House on the National Space Council and at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

But prestige wasn't enough for Nozette. Between January 2000 and February 2006, Nozette used his non-profit company, the Alliance for Competitive Technology (ACT) to commit tax fraud. With ACT, Nozette made $265,000 in fraudulent reimbursement claims. In addition, he intentionally evaded at least $200,000 in federal taxes, according to the Department of Justice. 

The tax issues led authorities to wonder whether Nozette was willing to compromise his high level security clearance. In September of 2009, an undercover FBI agent contacted Nozette, posing as an Israeli intelligence officer. In exchange for $10,000 in cash, Nozette provided the undercover agent with information relating to US satellites, communications and defense.

"I’ve sort of crossed the Rubicon,” Nozette told the agent, shortly before his arrest in October of 2009. Nozette has been in custody since then.

Neither the government of Israel nor anyone acting on its behalf has been accused of any wrongdoing in this case.

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