ORLANDO (Florida Today) -- The former head of NASA's Commercial Crew Program Monday formally pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge that he acted improperly in a matter in which he had a financial interest.

Ed Mango could face up to five years in prison when sentenced in February or March, though his lawyers intend to seek a sentence that avoids prison time.

At the federal courthouse in Orlando this morning, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Baker questioned Mango about his understanding of his rights and the facts of the case.

Under oath, Mango pleaded guilty.

According to a plea agreement signed last month, Mango loaned an undisclosed amount of money to a NASA colleague who worked on the Commercial Crew Program when she became the subject of a criminal investigation last fall and was arrested at Kennedy Space Center last December.

He then pressured senior KSC officials to limit discipline against that colleague, who court records identify as "C.T." and "Thomas," without disclosing that he had a financial interest in her case.

Candrea Thomas, a NASA public affairs officer who served as spokeswoman for the Commercial Crew Program, was the only NASA employee arrested at KSC at that time, according to NASA. Thomas was arrested on charges of forging public documents.

Mango stepped down from his position in October. He has been reassigned to a role providing advice to the head of NASA's human spaceflight programs, Bill Gerstenmaier.

NASA has said no decision on any agency discipline of Mango would be made until the legal process is complete.

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