Audit report blasts New Mexico Spaceport America’s former director

SANTA FE – Former Spaceport America superintendent Dan Hicks has been described as an unscrupulous and bully boss who takes job emails, enforces consumer rules and returns tax-exempt travel claims, among other things, a dangerous report 362 Pages Released Tuesday by Auditor State New Mexico Brian Colón.

“It is important for administrators in all spheres of government to contribute to ethics. Establishing a dignified voice at the top of the list and following internal controls is essential, “Colón told the newspaper, adding:” Speaking out must be transparent and committed to honesty, integrity, and accountability. “

Hicks was fired in October by a committee of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority, the New Mexico spaceport governing body, after being given oversight leave in June.

The inquiry followed complaints from Zach De Gregorio, chief financial officer of Spaceport, who resigned after criticizing Hick for failing to manage financial matters and for managing accounts and disrupting communications with board chairwoman Alicia Keyes.

On the same day that Hicks was fired, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham fired Rick Holdridge, a former chairman.

Dan Hicks, chief of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority addresses the Space Valley Conference at NMSU in Las Cruces on Wednesday, January 8, 2020.

Dan Hicks did not immediately respond to questions from Las Cruces Sun-News.

The report was prepared by McHard Firm investigators following a three-month survey that included interviews with Hicks, Holdridge and Spaceport staff and reviewed public records. The investigators’ actions went further than De Gregorio’s complaints and described in detail the “difficulties” that also affected his actions.

The study alleges that Hicks spent huge sums of money on taxpayers’ travel and promoted spaceport as an orbital launch site even though the Federal Aviation Administration did not authorize Spaceport America to start orbital; and that he tried to attract military security forces to even close to the U.S. military base, the White Sands Missile Range, where Hicks worked for years before being hired at the spaceport in 2016.

Spaceport America, first built between 2006 and 2012 with $ 220 million in humanitarian assistance, is located in Sierra County in New Mexico near the WSMR.

Interviewees reported that Hicks was frustrated by agency officials who insisted “there should be” a reduction “of almost all laws,” who violated the law, including illegal trips that backed up and falsified documents, the investigation said.

He sang inappropriately during the trip

Audit records found that Hicks was reimbursed more than $ 60,000 for the trip, in addition to “probably thousands of dollars” for trips to the government, and asked for De Gregorio’s help to get approval later.

The study also questioned the legitimacy of certain Hick missions, some of which were “tourist events” such as commemorating the work of Apollo 11 in Colorado and Florida.

Spaceport America CEO Dan Hicks is looking at WhiteKnightTwo's Virgin Galactic pilots flying at the spaceport on Thursday, August 15, 2019.

Hicks is said to have spent thousands of dollars on attending National Space Council meetings, being chosen to be a body by Vice President Mike Pence or to be invited by Pence to meetings, although there is no evidence that Hick has ever been a member or attended meetings. The Witnesses told investigators that Hicks “could not have provided any report other than that published in a popular newspaper.”

Instead, investigators found evidence that Hicks had received invitations from business groups to help in obtaining a violation of the New Mexico Constitution’s anti-donation law, and that De Gregorio was properly disclosing what had already happened.

The review also found that the Hicks were able to reserve or reschedule travel at the end of the day, raising funds and often without a clear business.

Improper employment and other claims

McHard’s report also states that Hicks did not do well in the construction of the space shuttle Karen Barker (who is accusing the spaceport of discrimination and reinstatement before leaving work in 2019) and business expert Guillermo Blacker.

In both cases, the study states that the Hicks avoided ways of getting their peers to promote Barker and Blacker, both of whom “had a close and / or intimate relationship” with Hicks in the past.

On Blacker’s behalf, the investigation said Hicks had also written a description of the case so that the position would be made known to them instead of De Gregorio.

In 2019, the survey found that De Gregorio and Holdridge both participated in petting to raise money for Hick, whose salary was $ 153,000 at the time, but not approved by the entire committee. The promotion, however, “did not materialize,” according to the report.

Hicks is also accused by investigators of lying to Keyes that Spaceport America had his own ideas when no document was even possible.

From left, Spaceport America CEO Dan Hicks and New Mexico State University President John Floros at a ceremony to welcome the new spaceport office on the NMSU campus, Wednesday, September 11, 2019.

The Witnesses reportedly told readers that “Mr. Hicks discussed with colleagues that there was no way out, but said that if needed, he could just write over the weekend.”

The investigation also found evidence that Hicks had received emails, and recommended that a further investigation into New Mexico’s violations be made.

Shortly after De Gregorio’s complaint against Hicks’ management last June, he said he had not been able to receive his email for several days.

Investigators confirmed that Hicks had asked an IT specialist at spaceport to send De Gregorio’s email and send some material to Hicks. In addition, readers say that after Barker resigned from his job at spaceport last year, Hicks received his emails “temporarily” and responded to contacts who tried to reach him.

Without receiving Barker’s emails, the investigator said, “We could not determine whether Mr. Hicks responded to any of Barker’s emails while he was acting as Barker. We request that this be investigated.”

The former treasurer is being monitored

Attorney Zach De Gregorio was also reviewed by accountants.

McHard’s report states that DeGregorio made a mistake in signing a construction contract in 2018 that enabled him to “use” the most important work in his career.

In particular, accountants noted that De Gregorio was on the committee’s nomination committee even though it was another candidate, Fiore Industries, who won. De Gregorio claims that he later increased the amount of the contract (and its value) without the consent.

Investigators have also obtained a link from De Gregorio to Hicks in 2019 stating that they had negotiated with an outside cleaning company to reduce the amount of the agency’s annual surveillance, as the accounting firm had been “very aggressive”.

If the negotiations had taken place, the report would say that there would have been a breach of professional standards for accredited accountants, and it also encourages an investigation.

Sun-News has asked De Gregorio to respond.

This is an evolving issue and will be updated with additional information from the report.

Read Spaceport America’s special research report here:

Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, [email protected] or @ AlgernonWrites on Twitter.

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