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NASA, ex-worker reach a deal in shuttle case

ORLANDO, Fla. — A former NASA employee charged with stealing a 2-inch piece of debris while helping to recover parts of the space shuttle Columbia in Texas has reached a plea agreement that will likely keep him out of prison.

Michael Pankiewicz, 44, pleaded guilty last month to theft of government property. The single misdemeanor carries a maximum year in prison and a $100,000 fine. Prosecutors will seek only probation when he is sentenced Nov. 10, according to documents filed in federal court.

Pankiewicz was charged in April with three felonies of stealing government property, transporting stolen goods across state lines and making false statements. He faced a maximum 25 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.