Derek Strassle, the former Lead Hardware Engineer for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) L3 weapons program, just wanted to help his friend set up a new ecommerce website for his business. The only problem was that his friend’s business involved illegally manufacturing and distributing anabolic steroids.
With a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering, Strassle had been employed by Lockheed Martin for almost a decade. Lockheed Martin is the world’s largest defense contractor with the overwhelming majority of its revenues coming from military sales. Its largest customer is the U.S. government. Lockheed Martin receives over $40 billion in government contracts every year primarily from the Department of Defense.
Strassle played a critical role in the development of the Department of Defense’s trillion-dollar F-35 Lightning Program when Lockheed Martin was awarded the contract for the program. The F-35 Lightning Program is a fifth-generation stealth fighter aircraft that represents the cutting edge in aircraft weaponry for the Navy, Air Force and Marines. The Department of Defense issued a high-level security clearance with special access authorizations to Strassle so that he could work on the program.
The government had given Strassle his dream job. But what the government giveth, the government taketh away. Remember that website Strassle set up for his friend? Well, 99% of prosecutors would probably not bother going after someone who had such a trivial role. Unfortunately for Strassle, Richard Hartunian isn’t like most prosecutors.
Hartunian, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, apparently wanted to make an example out of Strassle and, in doing so, effectively destroyed Strassle’s careeer.
Federal prosecutors indicted Strassle and charged him with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute anabolic steroids and one count of conspiracy to commit international money laundering. This meant that Strassle could go to prison for up to maximum of 20 years if convicted for little more than helping a friend set up a website.
The consequences to Strassle’s career were immediate. The DoD revoked his security clearance thereby making him ineligible to work on any military contracts. This made him essentially useless to Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin promptly fired him.
Strassle had little choice but to plead guilty. With a guilty plea, Strassle was spared the maximum prison sentence with prosecutors recommending a 24- to 30-month period of confinement behind bars. Even that was excessive. For setting up a website.
The only good news for Strassle was the fact that U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy recognized Strassle’s prosecution was total bullshit. Judge McAvoy completely rejected the government’s recommendations. McAvoy didn’t think Strassle should serve a single day in prison. Strassle was sentenced to three years of probation.
Of course, a highly-educated and technically-skilled electrical engineer like Strassle has a marketable skill set and will be certain to find employment. But his dream job is over for good and his career opportunities are much more limited.