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Metallurgist Sentenced to 2.5 Years for Faking Submarine Steel Tests

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Published Feb 15, 2022 6:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

The former chief metallurgist for the U.S. Navy's top supplier of high-strength steel for nuclear submarines has been sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for her role in falsifying quality tests. 

According to kead prosecutor Seth Wilkinson, the suspect - named as Elaine Thomas, 67 - ran one of the "longest-running military procurement fraud schemes in history." The alleged fraud spans a period of nearly four decades beginning in the mid-1980s. 

Thomas' former employer, Bradken Inc., was the U.S. Navy’s leading supplier of high-yield steel castings for submarine construction. In 2008, the company acquired a Tacoma foundry that makes the castings that the Navy's two prime contractors use to make submarine hulls. The Navy requires that the steel must meet demanding test standards for strength and toughness.  

Thomas, as the Tacoma foundry's director of metallurgy, has admitted that she falsified results to hide the fact that the steel had failed certain strength tests - in particular, a test for resistance to cracking in extreme cold conditions. According to charging documents, Thomas faked the results for over 240 batches of HY-80 and HY-100 steel, covering a "substantial percentage" of the castings that the foundry produced for the Navy from 1985 to 2017. Federal investigators were notified, and Thomas was charged with fraud; she pled guilty last November.

According to Bradken, this pattern of fraud resulted in the installation of "hundreds of substandard castings on Navy vessels" built by General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries. Prosecutors say that Bradken's management was not aware of the fraudulent test results until May 2017, when a new lab manager took over the role and reported that Thomas' test cards appeared to have been systematically altered. 

Prosecutors sought a six-year sentence for Thomas, citing the cost of testing for the Navy and the uncertain extent of any deficiencies Thomas may have allowed into the construction of some of America's most important weapons systems. In sentencing, the judge noted the absence of a compelling motive or any financial gain, describing Thomas' long-running deceit as a "baffling" crime of "pride and ego," according to the Kitsap Sun.