Spaceport America CEO Being Investigated for Alleged Criminal Acts

Daniel Hicks

Some of the allegations against suspended Spaceport America CEO Dan Hicks are of a criminal nature, a New Mexico official has revealed. The Sante Fe New Mexican reports:

A wide range of allegations against Hicks are being looked into, including possible violations of the state procurement code, potential financial mismanagement such as improper spending, alleged disbursement of gross receipts tax revenue for unauthorized purposes and possible conflict of interest, Economic Development Department Secretary Alicia Keyes said.

“After the investigators initially came on and did some interviews, they informed us this is a potential criminal violation,” the secretary, who is also chairwoman of the spaceport’s board, told lawmakers at a Legislative Finance Committee meeting held virtually and in person in Red River.

Hicks, who has headed the spaceport since 2016, was placed on administrative leave in June when former Chief Financial Officer Zach De Gregorio submitted a complaint accusing Hicks of pressuring him to ignore procedures that provide accountability for the spending of public money.

Two separate investigations are underway into the charges and the spaceport’s finances.

Multiple Investigations Ongoing into Spaceport America Finances

Daniel Hicks

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that State Auditor Brian Colón is investigating the New Mexico Spaceport Authority (NMSA), and the state Economic Development Department has hired an outside accounting firm to perform an independent forensic audit of the organization that runs Spaceport America.

The investigations followed claims by NMSA’s former chief financial officer that CEO Dan Hicks had pressured him to ignore accounting procedures. Hicks is currently on administrative leave pending the outcome of the inquiries.

Colón said Monday he couldn’t release the complaint that prompted him to open the investigation, but said he began the inquiry in June, one day after former Chief Financial Officer Zach De Gregorio resigned, citing frustration with the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board’s response to his whistleblower complaint about CEO Dan Hicks’ alleged attempts to get him and others to circumvent accounting protocols.

“Daniel Hicks has shown gross mismanagement and abuse of authority,” De Gregorio wrote in his complaint. “He has consistently applied pressure to the CFO and the accounting staff to bend the rules. This pressure has reached the point where I feel like my ethical ability to act as a check and balance for financial decisions in the Agency is compromised. This has created a toxic environment where there is no longer adequate internal controls at the NM Spaceport Authority, which could lead to fraud.”

De Gregorio also accused Hicks of attempting to block and interfere with his communications with state Economic Development Department Secretary Alicia Keyes and the Spaceport board.

“Daniel Hicks often talks about that it is his money and his authority and he should be able to do what he wants,” DeGregorio wrote in his complaint. “Zach De Gregorio reminds him that it is the State of New Mexico’s money and the board’s authority and the Agency has to follow the process.”

The newspaper also reports that former NMSA employee Karen Barker has filed a complaint saying Hicks had created a toxic work environment and retaliated against her after she complained she was being paid less male counterparts.

Spaceport America Interim CEO Appointed Amid Ethics Investigation

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

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority appointed business development director Scott McLaughlin as interim CEO of Spaceport America as an investigation continues into suspended CEO Dan Hicks.

The Las Cruces Sun News reports:

McLaughlin, an Albuquerque native and New Mexico State University alumnus who began working for the spaceport in 2019, introduced himself at a meeting of the New Mexico Spaceport Authority’s board of directors Friday morning. The meeting was conducted via video conference. 

Melissa Force, who briefly stepped in as interim director, continues to serve as the spaceport’s full-time general counsel. 

Hicks, the spaceport’s CEO since 2016, is on administrative leave pending an investigation into a complaint by the spaceport’s former chief financial officer, Zach De Gregorio.

The complaint, submitted in June, accuses Hicks of undermining internal accounting controls and interfering with communications between De Gregorio and state Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes, who chairs the NMSA board. 

Keyes said a report should be available for the board’s review in two to three weeks.

Spaceport America CEO Placed on Administrative Leave

Daniel Hicks

The Las Cruces Sun News reports that Spaceport America CEO Dan Hicks, who has led the organization since 2016, has been placed on administrative leave.

New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes, who chairs the New Mexico Spaceport Authority’s board of directors, confirmed Thursday that Hicks was on leave pending an investigation, but did not provide further details. 

Hicks did not immediately respond to a query from the Sun-News.

He succeeded Christine Anderson, who served as the spaceport’s CEO from 2011 until her retirement.

Previously, Hicks served for 34 years at White Sands Missile Range, ultimately assisting WSMR’s commanding general and its executive director. The Las Cruces native graduated from Las Cruces High School, earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from New Mexico State University and received an honorary selection to NMSU’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Academy.

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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