News4’s Scott MacFarlane reports. (Published Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016)
A former federal security official who pleaded guilty to trying to make methamphetamine inside a high-security government research facility in Montgomery County was sentenced Thursday night to more than 3 years in prison.
Christopher Bartley was sentenced to serve 41 months in prison after a marathon hearing on Thursday. He pleaded guilty in August to trying to make meth in July on the campus of the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, while employed there as a police lieutenant.
A federal judge compared him to Walter White on the hit television show “Breaking Bad.” He said that unlike on the show, Bartley’s crimes didn’t take place in a desert.
Bartley said in the courtroom he made a serious error in judgment.
“I was scared. I was ashamed. I was scared I’d lose my job,” he said.
As News4 was first to report, an explosion ripped through an NIST lab about 7:30 p.m. July 18, sending a blast shield and shatterproof windows flying more than 20 feet, officials said. The federal facility holds a nuclear reactor and important scientific research and explosives.
Bartley, who also was accused of having sex in government cars while on official duty, had been trying to make meth, officials say.
The blast sent the temperature to 180 degrees, and a silent heat alarm activated. Responding firefighters saw Bartley leaving the room, according to the U.S. attorney. Investigators searched the room and the trash and found equipment and household items for making meth. In Bartley’s car they found a recipe and more equipment.
A fellow officer and firefighter testified on Thursday that Bartley lied to them when they arrived on the scene. Bartley claimed a butane lighter had exploded.
Bartley, 41, of Gaithersburg, was found with burns on his arms, and singed hair and eyebrows, prosecutors said.
“He lied to his own colleagues in the police department and exposed everyone to the danger of that meth lab,” U.S. State’s Attorney Rod Rosenstein said.
Bartley resigned the following day.
On Thursday, prosecutors showed photos of the damage the explosion caused to the lab.
Bartley’s attorney, Steven Van Grack, said Bartley had been conducting an unauthorized training experiment that failed.
“There were only two possible options: he was seeking to make it to try it for the first time or it was a legitimate training program,” Van Grack said.
The judge listened and called the argument “preposterous.”
Bartley’s lawyer asked for probation and argued he did not endanger others and never succeeded in making meth.
NIST, a federal entity that’s part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, employs about 3,000 scientists, engineers and others on a 578-acre campus about 15 miles north of Washington, D.C.
Bartley will report to federal prison March 1.