The Cloud Over Lightning Strike

Did the U.S. government spend $2 million just to nail little guys like David Proctor?

The proposal was sent back to Clifford -- who promised Proctor and Verlander 25 percent of any profits -- and was then submitted to JSC's Medical Sciences Division and was reviewed and rejected by Dr. John Charles.

"I thought it was innocent," says Proctor. "I didn't think anything of it. If he had the technology he said he did, I think NASA and the American public could have benefited from it. As it turned out, it was just a big lie."

On that bizarre afternoon more than a year later at the FBI warehouse near the Astrodome, a frightened, intimidated and confused David Proctor, after deciding to "help himself," was driven to the Sheraton-Astrodome Hotel and escorted to a suite with a big conference table.

"And there are all these guys that are walking around with guns," recalls Proctor. "It's like something out of James Bond. And I immediately recognize some of the faces, because they were the ones in Grandy's. I don't think I really admitted to anything that day. But I would have admitted to being on the grassy knoll."

Jim Verlander was also there.
Proctor was told that two agents would be assigned to him and that to keep his end of the deal to "help himself" he would have to make surreptitious tape recordings and obtain documents to build cases against others -- higher-ups -- in the community of NASA employees and contractors. For nine weeks, Proctor says, he went about the business of trying to get his coworkers and bosses to incriminate themselves. Proctor says the agents continued to tell him to keep his mouth shut and to not contact an attorney. All the while he repeatedly heard the name of Assistant U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez in connection with his case.

"And finally, I said, 'I want to meet this man,'" says Proctor. "And they say, 'Okay.'

"So, I go into the federal building and meet Martinez and this guy named Ed Gallagher. Sat down. And this is something I will never forget. Sat across from Abe Martinez and he said, 'Mr. Proctor, the next time I see you, you will have an attorney.' And he pointed his finger at me. 'The next time I see you, you will have an attorney.' And these two agents sort of slumped down in their chairs.

"And I said, 'I was told it was in my best interest not to have an attorney,'" says Proctor. "And he said, 'The next time I see you, you will have an attorney.' So, guess what? I went and got an attorney."

Armed with legal counsel, Proctor went on doing the government's undercover bidding. The FBI would provide him with "scripts" before his regular meetings with members of the NASA management team -- such as Life Sciences Division chief Carolyn Huntoon, who now heads JSC. Proctor says he would go into the meetings and try to edge his targets toward uttering a semblance of the words the FBI had written, words that would incriminate them. Proctor was also given a device to record his phone conversations.

"Nobody ever knew," he recalls, shaking his head in disgust -- partly with himself and partly with the government. "Nobody ever knew."

Proctor continued the charade until late November of last year, when he was informed that the sting was being terminated in the wake of a Channel 11 report that broke the news of the undercover probe. "And I got a call from Carolyn Huntoon, saying, 'Dave, your name has been implicated in this.' And I say, 'Oh, really?'" In December, NBC's Dateline reported that astronaut David Wolf had been a target of the probe, and detailed how an undercover FBI agent posing as a businessman had treated Wolf to a night on the town at an expensive Houston restaurant and a topless club. Proctor says he spoke briefly with the NBC crew preparing the Wolf story, an exchange that did not please the U.S. Attorney's office, which demanded a meeting with him at the federal building in downtown Houston.

"Mr. Martinez asked me, 'Why did you talk to the press?' And I said, 'I just did.' He said, 'Do not speak to the press. If you speak to the press, all deals are off. And I asked him about my First Amendment rights. And Martinez repeated his words, 'Do not speak to the press.'"

On February 22, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office staged a press conference to formally acknowledge Operation Lightning Strike and announce its results. Nine people -- including Proctor -- and one small aerospace contractor were charged with crimes ranging from bribery to knowingly accepting government documents that contained inside information on bidding for contracts. All -- expect for Proctor -- would eventually enter arranged guilty pleas. Of those who pleaded guilty, all but one would receive small probated sentences and fines.

The lone exception was 54-year-old Vincent Maleche, who had been a division director at Martin Marietta's government services division. Maleche was fined $2,500 and served two months in jail over the summer. (In August, Neal Jackson and his partner, Dale Brown, would also be hit with similar charges. Jackson is in the process of arranging a plea bargain. Brown apparently will stand trial. Jim Verlander has pleaded guilty to charges of bribery and conspiracy, but has not been sentenced. He declined to be interviewed for this story.)

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