Former director of Spaceport America may face criminal investigation

Back in October, the executive director of New Mexico’s Spaceport America was fired. Now a report that’s full of evidence that he broke several laws and policies during his tenure has been released by the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor that describes his “dysfunctional” leadership.

The first fully commercial purpose-based spaceport has had a rocky couple of years since it was declared open in 2011. Companies like SpaceX planned on using the spaceport but eventually moved to South Texas and Virgin Galactic agreed to use it as its base of operations but hasn’t flown any customers out of it. Although Spaceport America has held several non-aerospace events, it has yet to fill the promise of an aerospace and tourism boom to the area.

The past four years of Dan Hicks serving as Spaceport America’s executive director has proved troublesome. After a complaint from the spaceport’s finance director, Zach DeGregorio, the state put Hicks under administrative leave. This led to the state hiring a private investigative firm to comb through Hicks’ records to check into the concerns.

Report shows the worst

What they found is nothing short of atrocious and interesting enough, DeGregorio was involved with Hicks in the behavior. The investigative firm found improper contracting procedures, conducting business outside of public meetings, falsifying travel vouchers, and several other laws and policies broken by both Hicks and DeGregorio. Contracts were awarded often without proper approval by the board with DeGregorio helping to circumvent the rules. Hicks justified trips to meetings of the National Space Council stating he was a member which he obviously is not. All of that led to the immense mismanagement of the spaceport’s budget and funds.

Amateur sounding rocket builders launch their rockets during the Spaceport America Cup.

The report by the investigative firm described Hicks as “at times a forceful bully” stating he tried to acquire more control of the spaceport and its budget than what was allowed by law.

The report was given to the state attorney for possible criminal investigation. DeGregorio resigned from his position shortly after filing his complaint and Hicks was fired two days after the report was given to the state auditor. Scott McLaughlin, the director of business development for the spaceport has been serving as acting executive director until the board can meet and vote in a permanent replacement. The board is currently scheduled to meet December 2nd.

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