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.
McHard Accounting Consulting was brought in to conduct a forensic audit of the the spaceport’s finances. The firm’s investigation was refered to the New Mexico State Auditor’s Office, where it remains under review.
Officials said that Spaceport American Business Development Director Scott McLaughlin would continue to serve as interim CEO while the board searches for a permanent replacement.
The Sun-News also reports that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has removed longtime NMSA board member and former chairman Richard Holdridge, who was first appointed to the body in 2007. State officials gave no explanation for the decision.
In an unrelated lawsuit, former spaceport space systems engineer Karen Barker has alleged she was the victim of gender-based discrimination and retaliation by Hicks and other spaceport staff.
New Mexico has spent about $225 million to construct Spaceport America to serve as the operational base for Virgin Galactic. The company, founded by Richard Branson, hopes to begin offering suborbital space tourism flights from the facility next year.