An acclaimed former government scientist who was ensnared in an undercover FBI sting was sentenced today to 13 years in federal prison on charges he tried to sell secrets to a foreign intelligence agent.
Stewart Nozette, who pleaded guilty in September in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to attempted espionage, expressed remorse in court today for a lack of judgment.
Nozette, dressed in orange jail garb, was also sentenced today to about three years in prison for a tax fraud case. The sentence will be served simultaneously with the term he received for attempted espionage. Nozette, prosecutors said, believed he was dealing with an Israeli agent when he agreed to reveal classified information.
“Stewart Nozette's greed exceeded his loyalty to our country,” U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. said in a prepared statement. “He wasted his talent and ruined his reputation by agreeing to sell national secrets to someone he believed was a foreign agent.”
Nozette’s defense lawyers said Nozette, a noted scientist in the space industry, “never took a single step of his own volition” to betray his country. The attorneys, who included John Kiyonaga of Alexandria and Robert Tucker of Arlington, said the FBI preyed on a vulnerable man.
Sidley Austin partner Brad Berenson, who represented Nozette in the fraud case, said in court today that the attempted espionage charge was the product of “functional entrapment.”
“The government created the opportunity, tailor-made the circumstances…and essentially created both the crime and the criminal,” Berenson said in court today. He called the government’s conduct “at a bare minimum very ignoble, dishonorable.”
Assistant U.S. attorneys Anthony Asuncion and Michael Atkinson portrayed Nozette as a man motivated by greed.
Asuncion played a four-minute undercover video clip today that showed a smiling Nozette, sitting casually on a couch in a hotel as he discussed sharing information with an FBI agent posing as a foreign intelligence agent. He described Nozette as having “unbridled enthusiasm” to become a traitor of the United States.
In court papers, prosecutors included excerpts from the videos. “I don’t get recruited by Mossad every day,” Nozette said in one conversation. “I knew this day would come.”
Nozette formerly worked for the Department of Energy, Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Nozette was the president and director of the non-profit Alliance for Competitive Technology, or ACT. Between 2000 and 2006 the organization entered into agreements with several government agencies to develop highly advanced technology.
The tax fraud investigation, rooted in Nozette's used of ACT to receive income and pay personal expenses, led prosecutors to suspect that he misused government information, DOJ officials said. A person pretending to be an Israeli agent first contacted Nozette in September 2009.
Prosecutors said Nozette provided, in exchange for money, information that concerned satellites and early warning system. He has been in custody since his arrest in October 2009.
Nozette admitted in the tax fraud case to failing to report more than two hundred thousand dollars in income. U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman today ordered him to pay more than $217,000 in restitution to several victims, including NASA.
Berenson said Nozette is “utterly ruined,” with the loss of his career, marriage, finances and freedom. He described the government as being the “co-author” of a tragedy.
“They would have you believe that this case represents a triumph of good law enforcement and effective protection of the national security,” Berenson said. “The real truth of this matter is far more ambiguous. Indeed, in my mind, this is much, much closer to a tragedy than a triumph."