A former top NASA official has been indicted on charges of steering $9.6 million in agency funds to a consulting client.

The U.S. attorney's office announced a three-count indictment on Friday against Courtney Stadd of Bethesda, Md., who had served as NASA's chief of staff and White House liaison.

The indictment accuses Stadd of steering money from an earth science appropriation to Mississippi State University, which was paying him as a consultant. Stadd is also accused of lying to NASA ethics officials investigating the matter.

He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on all three charges.

NASA officials on Friday declined to comment on the indictment.

Stadd, who joined NASA as chief of staff in 2001 and left the agency in 2003, was President George W. Bush's NASA transition chief in 2000. Stadd "was centrally involved in the organization and management of NASA," said John Logsdon, a Smithsonian Institution space scholar.

"He was in many ways the White House representative to the NASA front office," said Logsdon, a member of the NASA Advisory Council. "So he had a fair degree of influence."

When Stadd announced that he was leaving, then-NASA chief Sean O'Keefe said, "Courtney has been a faithful public servantmillion through five subcontracts.

"If I intervene anymore then all sorts of red flags will go up and I fear getting MSU and me in trouble," Stadd wrote in an e-mail to a university official quoted in the indictment.

Mississippi State said when it received the grant that it was using the money to develop a "Google for NASA research" — a computerized, one-stop database for Earth science research that could impact climate change, bioterrorism, transportation and population trends.

Three months after leaving his temporary position in the NASA administrator's office, Stadd sent an e-mail to a Mississippi State official proposing that his consulting fee be increased from $3,000 a month to $7,000-$10,000, according to the indictment. In an excerpted e-mail, Stadd wrote the NASA contract was an example of "the return on the investment" that the university got for his services. The university gave him another contract worth up to $60,000, the indictment says.