Spaceport America’s Former CFO Files Lawsuit Alleging Racketeering, Securities Fraud and Whistleblower Persecution by NM Officials

Spaceport America’s former CFO Zach De Gregorio has filed a complaint alleging racketeering, securities fraud, and whistleblower persecution by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other officials related to his termination from his job at the state-run facility. The Las Cruces Sun-News reports:

In a 250-page complaint filed in the state’s first judicial district in Santa Fe, Zach De Gregorio alleges he was effectively terminated after he filed a whistleblower complaint that triggered a 2020 investigation into allegations of financial mismanagement, ethical violations and abuse of power by the spaceport’s former director, Dan Hicks. 

Hicks, who did not comment publicly on the claims, was terminated in 2021 and succeeded by Scott McLaughlin….

De Gregorio, who now resides in Arizona, alleges a broad conspiracy involving Lujan Grisham, state auditor Brian Colón, state Attorney General Hector Balderas, spaceport personnel and the New Mexico Finance Authority “to commit procurement fraud, commit securities fraud, break multiple Federal laws, and commit violations of the NM Whistleblower Protection Act.”  

While the filing states several complaints about Colón’s office, the state auditor noted that only “the state of New Mexico” is named as a party to the case as initially filed.

A report commissioned by the state concluded that De Gregorio had aided Hicks in various illegal and unethical actions while both men worked at the spaceport.

De Gregorio has posted a PDF version of his lawsuit for download here.

Breaking Down Virgin Galactic’s Latest Flight Test

Take me out to the black,
Tell them I ain’t comin’ back.
Burn the land and boil the sea,
You can’t take the sky from me….

— “The Ballad of Serenity,” Sonny Rhodes

“After so many years and so much hard work, New Mexico has finally reached the stars.”

— New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

By now, you’ve probably read the rhetoric flourishes in Virgin Galactic’s press release about the company’s first suborbital flight test in more than two years that was conducted on Saturday. Suffice to say, if the stars were located at the altitude that SpaceShipTwo actually reached (55.45 miles/89.2 km), they would take the sky away at the same time they burned the land and boiled the seas. Being suborbital, VSS Unity wouldn’t have helped anyone escape the inferno.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. So, let’s just put doomsday out of our minds. It’s time to break down what the flight test accomplished, what comes next, and why 27 months passed between powered flights. And what about Jeff Bezos?

Ready? Let’s go!

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Virgin Galactic Completes First Human Spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico

VSS Unity during its first suborbital flight from Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. May 22, 2021 (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE) (“The Company or Virgin Galactic”) today completed its third spaceflight and the first ever spaceflight from Spaceport America, New Mexico. Today’s flight sees New Mexico become the third US state to launch humans into space.

VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve, and reached space, at an altitude of 55.45 miles before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.

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Window for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Suborbital Flight Opens Dec. 11

SpaceShipTwo fires its engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Virgin Galactic PR) — Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: SPCE), today announced its new flight window since it paused the spaceflight preparations in response to state guidelines from the New Mexico Department of Health to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The new flight window will open on December 11, pending good weather conditions and technical readiness. This flight expects to fulfill a number of objectives, including testing elements of the customer cabin as well as assessing the upgraded horizontal stabilizers and flight controls during boost. The flight will also carry payloads as part of the NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

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New Mexico Imposes 2-week Shelter in Place Order to Reduce Spread of COVID-19

SANTA FE (NM Department of Health PR) – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state health officials on Friday announced the state of New Mexico will temporarily re-enact a statewide order closing in-person services for all non-essential activities in order to blunt the unprecedented spike of COVID-19 illnesses and to attempt to relieve dramatically escalating strain on hospitals and health care providers across the state.

The heightened restrictions statewide, enacted through an amended emergency public health order issued by the state Department of Health, will be in effect for two weeks.

The restrictions are effective Monday, Nov. 16, through Monday, Nov. 30. The amended emergency public health order is attached to this news release.

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Virgin Galactic Delays SpaceShipTwo Flight Test Due to COVID-19

SpaceShipTwo Unity in its first powered flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic’s first suborbital flight in nearly two years will have to wait a bit longer due to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

The company has postponed a powered flight test of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity that had been scheduled to take place between Nov. 19-23 from Spaceport America after New Mexico reenacted its shelter in place order as the rising number coronavirus cases have begun to overwhelm hospitals.

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Board Fires Spaceport America Executive Director Dan Hicks

Daniel Hicks

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA) has terminated Spaceport America Executive Director and CEO Dan Hicks four months after he was placed on administrative leave amid an investigation into alleged financial mismanagement and abuse of authority.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports the board voted 5-1 to remove Hicks after discussing his status in closed session for about an hour. Board members did not comment on the reason for the dismissal.

Hicks, who was hired in 2016, was placed on leave in June after former CFO Zach De Gregorio submitted a complaint that alleged the spaceport CEO had created a toxic work environment and removed adequate internal controls on the expenditure of funds.

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Global Telecom Company Signs Lease at Spaceport America

LAS CRUCES, NM (New Mexico Spaceport Authority PR) — HAPSMobile Inc., a subsidiary of Japan’s telecommunications operator SoftBank Corp. (TOKYO: 9434) has chosen New Mexico’s Spaceport America for test operations and development of a specialized communications platform designed to provide internet connectivity to hard-to-reach places around the globe, Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Alicia J. Keyes announced today.

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Governor Appoints 3 New Members to New Mexico Spaceport Authority

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

SANTA FE, N.M. (NM Economic Development Department PR) – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has appointed three new members to the New Mexico Spaceport Authority and re-appointed four other members, Cabinet Secretary Alicia J. Keyes announced today.

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Collaboratory Formed to Promote New Mexico’s Spaceport America During Closed Door Meeting

Sunset at the “Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space” terminal hangar facility at Spaceport America. (Credit: Bill Gutman/Spaceport America)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Officials from New Mexico, the federal government and Virgin Galactic met last week behind closed doors for the state’s first Space Valley Summit to form a “collaboratory” to promote Spaceport America and the state’s aerospace economy.

The one group not invited: taxpayers who have forked over about $250 million to build the spaceport where Virgin Galactic is the anchor tenant. As the Las Cruces Sun News dryly noted

Minutes after [Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham] exhorted the summit to “make sure every New Mexican … knows exactly what is happening here,” all reporters were asked to leave. 

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