Ex-Aberdeen Proving Ground employee gets 42 months in prison for role in contract fraud conspiracy

The Aegis
Companies controlled by co-conspirators were funneled federal subcontracts, prosecutors say

A former civilian employee at Aberdeen Proving Ground was sentenced Friday to 42 months in a federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for conspiring to defraud the United States by steering federal contracts to a company in which he secretly held a financial interest.

U.S District Judge Garbis also entered an order requiring Mark Nixon, 54, of Silver Spring, to pay restitution of $750,000, according to the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office, which announced the sentence handed down in the federal court in Baltimore, where Nixon pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges on June 15.

According to prosecutors, Nixon was a civilian employee of the Department of Defense and worked at the U.S. Army Research Laboratories where, from 2008 to December 2010, Nixon was director of the Vehicle Technology Directorate with ARL at Aberdeen Proving Ground. He was married to Sandra Nixon, a co-defendant in the case.

The Nixons had a financial interest and management role in the operation of the following companies: Motile Robotics Inc. (MRI), in Joppa; Atlantic Capital Enterprises (ACE); and Arrow Technical Incorporated (ATI).

Mark and Sandra Nixon, along with Kenneth Dawson, a third co-defendant, created and operated MRI. Dawson had full-time employment with two defense contractors at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where he lived, according to prosecutors.

MRI received more than $5 million in federal funds under subcontracts steered to the company by Mark Nixon, according to prosecutors, who said Nixon caused MRI to pay money to Arrow Technical and then for Arrow Technical to pay Atlantic Capital. The Nixons and Dawson personally benefited from more than $750,000 sent to these companies, prosecutors said.

Sandra Nixon, also known as "Lisa Hart," 52, of Silver Spring, and Dawson, 52, of Niceville, Fla., pleaded guilty on June 30 to conspiring to defraud the United States. Sentencing for Sandra Nixon is scheduled on Oct. 2 and for Dawson on Oct. 30, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

In 2007, prosecutors said, Dawson used his personal credit cards to pay for startup costs associated with MRI, and the Nixons reimbursed Dawson for these expenses. Although Dawson was the supposed president of MRI, in reality, Mark and Sandra Nixon created MRI, provided significant input regarding its operation, and were in effect silent and undisclosed partners, owners and co-presidents, prosecutors said.

The Nixons helped operate MRI using the aliases "Paul Martin" and "Lisa Hart" in order to conceal their financial interest, prosecutors said.

According to the plea agreements, in 2008, Mark Nixon created and approved government documents that caused ARL to fund micro propulsion and wind tunnel research, including the fabrication of a small open-jet wind tunnel. Mark Nixon was designated as the team leader for ARL on the research project.

Beginning in February 2008, the United States awarded a large defense contractor a task order, worth approximately $3.6 million, to construct the open flow wind tunnel. Mark Nixon persuaded the defense contractor to use MRI as a subcontractor. Mark Nixon also played an important role in the government awarding the defense contractor another task order to construct a closed circuit wind tunnel, for approximately $3.5 million, under which MRI was again a subcontractor, prosecutors said.

Mark Nixon provided the contracting officer with a technical evaluation of the contract and its cost, prosecutors said, an acted as the government official overseeing and managing this work on a routine basis.

Although Mark Nixon knew he had a prohibited financial interest in MRI, prosecutors said, he conducted a technical evaluation of MRI's capabilities as a subcontractor, and approved invoices listing false labor and materials charges. These included more than $35,000 in false labor charges submitted for a relative of Sandra Nixon, who was characterized as an aerospace engineer; she was a retired school employee, prosecutors said.

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