Seattle (AP) – A Washington state metallurgist pleaded guilty to fraud on Monday after decades of falsifying the strength test results of steel used to make US Navy submarines.
Elaine Marie Thomas, 67, of Auburn, Washington, was director of metallurgy at a foundry in Tacoma, which supplied steel castings used by naval contractors Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding to make submarine hulls.
From 1985 to 2017, Thomas falsified the strength and toughness test results of at least 240 grades of steel – about half the steel the foundry produced for the Navy, according to her plea agreement filed Monday in the US District Court in Tacoma. The tests were meant to show that the steel would not fail in a collision or in certain “wartime scenarios,” the Justice Department said.
There were no allegations that any submarine hulls were out of order, but authorities said the Navy incurred additional and maintenance costs to keep them seaworthy. The government does not disclose which submarines were damaged.
Thomas faces up to 10 years in prison and a $ 1 million fine when she is sentenced in February. However, the Justice Department said it would recommend a minimum prison sentence, which the court will define as the standard range of sentences in her case.
In a statement to the US District Court on her behalf on Monday, her attorney John Carpenter said Thomas “went fast.”
“RS. Thomas never intended to compromise the integrity of any material and is pleased that government testing does not indicate that the structural integrity of any submarine has indeed been compromised.” Carpenter wrote. “This crime is unique in that it is not was motivated by neither greed nor personal enrichment. She regrets not being able to follow her moral compass – admitting false statements is hardly how she envisioned living her retirement years. “
Thomas’s behavior came to light in 2017 when a metallurgist who was being trained to replace her noticed the suspicious test results and alerted their company, Bradken Inc. from Kansas City, which acquired the foundry in 2008.
Bradken fired Thomas and first reported his findings to the Navy, but then mistakenly assumed that the discrepancies were not the result of fraud. This has hampered investigations into the scope of the Navy’s problem, as well as their efforts to address risks to seafarers, prosecutors said.
In June 2020, the company agreed to pay $ 10.9 million under a deferred prosecution agreement.
Faced with bogus results, Thomas told investigators, “Yes, it looks bad,” the Justice Department said. She suggested that in some cases she changed the passing grade tests because she thought it was “stupid” that the Navy required tests to be conducted at temperatures below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (negative 73.3 degrees Celsius).