By Linda Cicoira — When NASA Wallops Flight Facility’s lab manager/quality assurance officer at the agency’s sewage plant went on vacation in March 2018, another worker began updating control charts and found lab records had discrepancies that couldn’t be justified.
The manager, Monica Kristine Borowicz, 50, of Mount Wharton Estates in Assawoman, was working for contractor LJT & Associates, which has a $200 million contract with NASA. The other worker, who was not identified, also worked for LJT.
Borowicz pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, Va., to making false statements or representations about Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen, known as TKN, or discharges that are “important because excess nitrogen in a waterway may lead to reduced levels of dissolved oxygen in the water and negatively impact aquatic plants and other organisms.”
The plea was part of a bargaining agreement with U.S. States Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger and U.S. Assistant States Attorney Joseph L. Kosky. The prosecutors agreed not to go forward with any other charges against Borowicz in return for her waiving indictment and pleading guilty to the single charge.
Borowicz also agreed to forfeiture and to making restitution to LJT and NASA for losses that have not yet been determined. In addition, she was ordered to pay a mandatory special assessment of $100. Borowicz could be sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison and fined $250,000. She is free on her own recognizance. Sentencing was set for Sept. 5.
“Although Borowicz falsified the data, there is no evidence to believe that the Wallops discharge was in excess of the permit limit or that the Wallops discharge was a danger to the environment,” the court file stated. “TKN testing done since March 2018 on the Wallops discharge has always demonstrated that it was below the applicable permit limit.”
Datasheets filed since Dec. 4, 2017, were missing and others showed figures for different dates and different tests contained identical readings, a result that is not possible, the court records show. “These irregularities resulted in internal and external audits being conducted on the LJT lab.” The record stated, “111 of 219 TKN analyses from Jan. 4, 2017 to March 20, 2018, (were) considered to be ‘suspect’ because documentation was unavailable, missing, incorrect, or copied from other data. An internal audit of tests conducted April 1, 2014, through the end of 2016, identified 408 NASA samples as suspect because of TKN non-conformities. All of these analyses were conducted by Borowicz.”
She “was qualified and knowledgeable in performance of the TKN testing,” the prosecutors said. “Borowicz had worked as a laboratory technician for over 27 years. As part of her certification, she was required to perform and pass a biannual TKN proficiency test.”
The audit also showed “Borowicz did not perform TKN tests for NASA in December 2017 and January 2018.” And that she gave the “false and fabricated results” in the required reported she filed with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality “for December 2017 and January 2018 as part of Wallops discharge permit.”
DEQ has since rejected every TKN analysis conducted during this time period and requested to have the suspect results removed and revisions submitted.
When the findings were discovered, “LJT voluntarily relinquished their certification to conduct TKN testing and now all TKN testing from Wallops is contracted out to a third party at additional cost to the government.”