By MIKE MCGRAW

George Sarris, an Air Force whistleblower who was demoted after he alleged that Omaha-based spy planes were poorly maintained, has settled retaliation claims against federal officials.

As a senior aircraft mechanic at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Sarris received steady commendations, bonuses and positive appraisals until he went public with his allegations.

Offutt officials suspended his security clearance and reassigned him to other duties, including custodial work, two months after a 2008 story in The Kansas City Star.

Sarris has insisted for years that there had been a serious breakdown in maintenance of Air Force reconnaissance planes used for intelligence missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. Air Force officials denied that, but many of Sarris’ allegations were later substantiated by follow-up investigations.

“Despite the defamation of my character, I was successful at increasing the margin of safety,” Sarris said. “Some of my concerns will never be aired, so I wish the best of luck to those who continue to operate the special mission C/KC-135 aircraft.”

An Air Force spokesman said Tuesday that he could not comment on the settlement.

As part of the settlement, the Air Force agreed not to fire Sarris over the loss of his security clearance and to continue paying Sarris his aircraft mechanic’s salary while he performs alternate duties, until he retires in 2014.

The agreement restores his earlier performance appraisals and pays more than $21,000 in fees for his attorneys at the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower advocacy group that represented him.

Sarris waived any other damage claims against the Air Force, but the agreement allows him to file state court lawsuits under limited circumstances.

Tom Devine, GAP’s legal director, said Offutt officials were able to retaliate against Sarris by suspending his security clearance because of a loophole in federal whistleblower protection laws.

To reach Mike McGraw, call 816-234-4423 or send email to mcgraw@kcstar.com.