By Linda Cicoira
Steve Eric Kremer was chief of the Range and Mission Management Office at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) where he oversaw $191 million worth of contracts. From 2008 to 2015 he also stole government funds and received kickbacks while being paid a six-figure salary for the Suborbital and Special Orbital Projects Directorate.
The 53-year-old Berlin, Md., man admitted his crimes Tuesday in U.S. District Court, in Norfolk, Va. He pleaded guilty in an agreement with prosecutors and is free on his own re-cognizance. Senior Judge Henry Coke Morgan Jr. accepted the plea.
Supervision was not ordered while Kremer is on bond. He is free to travel in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia. The engineer had to turn in his passport and was cautioned about bail jumping. Sentencing was set for March.
No promises for sentencing were made. Prosecutors agreed there would be no other charges filed against Kremer “in the Eastern District of Virginia for the specific conduct described in the in-formation or statement of facts.” Kremer also agreed to waive indictment.
The maximum penalty for receipt of gratuities by a public official is two years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The maximum sentence for theft of government funds is 10 years; a $250,000 fine; restitution, which is $19,469 in this case; forfeiture of assets, which is $37,289; and three years of supervised release.
Kremer paid a $200 special assessment and promised to “testify truthfully and completely at any grand juries, trials, or other proceedings.” No one else has been publicly named in connection with the crimes.
According to court records, Kremer and his family annually spent a week at a woman’s vacation home in Cape Charles in return for his helping her company secure work at NASA. The woman also obtained art for Kremer us-ing government funds totaling $17,820. She and her business were referred to as SC and Firm 2, respectively. The company is “a privately-held small business located in Annapolis, Md., that provides commercial furniture and interior design services to local, state, and federal government agencies.”
Text messages between Kremer and SC helped make the case. One message directed her “to bill this piece of art” to the government contract “but to conceal the true nature of the purchase.” On Oct. 21, 2011, Kremer sent an email to SC directing: “Don’t state that on the quote, please. We need to call it something else.” SC responded, “Listed it as a whiteboard. Not my first time at the rodeo!”
“The next day, Kremer sent SC an email noting that it would ‘look suspicious’ to deliver the piece of art at the same time as legitimately-purchased goods. He then joked, ‘We can work that out in a dark alley in D.C. Haha.’”
Court records stated, “In or about mid-December 2011, SC delivered the personalized artwork to Kremer, along with other interior design supplies for Kremer’s personal use.” She then submitted an invoice for $1,000 for two whiteboards.
Court records also stated Kremer bought himself gift cards under the guise that he and staff needed reference books for the job. Instead, the cards were used to purchase beauty and skin-care products, luggage, apparel, foot-wear, sporting equipment, cell phone accessories, and kitchen appliances.
The engineer awarded contracts for launch range operations support such as radar, telemetry, logistics, tracking, and communications services. The con-tracts were for services at test facilities and launch control centers. He did this job in 2014 when an Antares rock-et exploded on the launchpad.
Keith Koehler, news chief at WFF, wrote in an email Wednesday morning, “NASA can confirm that Mr. Kremer is a former NASA employee who resigned from NASA’s WFF in May 2018.” Records show Kremer holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineer-ing from the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering.
“From approximately December 2013 through March 2015, Kremer directed the purchase of various promotional items to be given to extracurricular organizations involving a member of Kremer’s family and an associate of Kremer’s at WFF,” court records state. “Most, if not all, these promotional items were charged to Project 100 …the funds for these materials ($11,500) came directly from the range operation contracts.” Government monies were not approved to be used in that manner. From December 2013 to April 2016, Kremer sought funds from two con-tractors, who were referred to in court records at Firm 1 and 3, for the extra-curricular organizations.
Firm 1 “is an aerospace engineering services company located in Columbia, Md., that delivers space and ground range services and base facility services to the Department of Defense, NASA, and civil customers.” It “holds several contracts for operation and maintenance efforts at the WFF, and was the prime contractor” hired by Kremer.
A total of $32,000 in donations was received from Firm 3, a subcontractor of Firm 1. SC’s company provided services through contracts held by the Columbia business.
“The defendant acknowledges that the foregoing statement of facts does not de-scribe all of the defendant’s conduct relating to the offense charged in this case nor does it identify all of the persons with whom the defendant may have engaged in illegal activities,” the plea bargain stated.
“Kremer sent an e-mail to certain employees of Firm 1 … requesting Amazon gift cards be purchased on his behalf which he would purportedly use to purchase electron-ic reference books … for himself and other … government employees … In total, $7,000 in … cards were procured for Kremer.” Records state Kremer used the cards or personal use and had the items shipped to his residence. “None of the items … purchased by Kremer …related to work efforts conducted at the WFF.”
On Dec. 7, LJT & Associates, of Columbia, announced on its website that it was awarded a $200 million contract to provide launch range operations sup-port at WFF. The “indefinite-delivery, in-definite-quantity contract includes cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price order-ing capability over a five-year period.”
Robert Conrad, the company’s president and CEO, stated, “We are excited and honored to continue our support of the WFF Launch Range Operations Contract that provides the East Coast with responsive and critical access to space in support of NASA, commercial and Department of Defense missions … As part of the con-tract, the company will provide Wallops Range operations and maintenance; sup-port services; training; command, control, communications, information and computer systems services; testing, modifying and installing communications and electronic systems at launch facilities, launch control centers and test facilities; range sustaining engineering services, and space vehicle ground operations support.”
By Linda Cicoira