Former officer sentenced for attempting to manufacture meth at federal science lab

FOX 5's Lauren DeMarco reports.

- A former federal police officer has been sentenced to almost three and a half years in prison after he pleaded guilty last August to trying to manufacture methamphetamine while on duty at a federal science lab.

Christopher Bartley, who resigned from his job one day after the July 18th explosion at the campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, broke down in tears Thursday night after learning he was sentenced 41 months.

He refused to comment to the media, but in court, Bartley spoke about his 20 years of service to the country, the Army and as a police officer.

However, the judge called Bartley's attempt at making methamphetamine an act of betrayal by someone entrusted with the safety of the government facility. He even said what Bartley did was worse than the character in the television show “Breaking Bad.”

First responders were called out for an explosion at NIST's campus on July 18. Bartley initially told them he had an accident with a lighter and butane ignited. But hours later, he admitted going to an empty lab while on duty with the chemicals, cold medicine and plastic water bottles needed to make less than five grams of meth.

While attempting to use the so-called “shake and bake” method to create the drug, an explosion ripped through the lab blowing out windows and sending them flying more than 30 feet.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Bartley put first responders at risk, allowing them to unknowingly enter an area filled with chemicals and ammonia gas.

Bartley’s attorneys claimed he was making the meth so he could better understand the drug and train other officers working for him at NIST. But after 13 hours of testimony and arguments, the judge didn't buy it.

"We think this is an appropriate sentence,” said U.S. attorney Rod Rosenstein. “The judge said he wants to send a message that people who are entrusted with responsibility to protect others, such as this defendant. They have a responsibility to do that. That is if they abuse their position of trust and when they expose others to harm."

"The U.S. attorney said that there was no intent to sell and there was no indication that he had ever used,” said defense attorney Steven Van Grack. “So the question is, as I argued to the court, there are only two possible options -- he was seeking to make it to try it for the first time or it was a legitimate training program. The judge did not agree with the training program argument.”

Bartley was ordered to surrender himself on March 1 to begin serving his sentence.

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