Welder at NASSCO Yard Gets Prison for Stealing Destroyers' Computer Gear

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Published Jul 10, 2024 10:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

A welder who worked at the General Dynamics NASSCO yard has been sentenced to prison for stealing computer equipment worth $600,000 from U.S Navy warships, including some that contained classified military communications.

Ernesto Saldivar, a civilian contractor, pleaded guilty to stealing hundreds of military hard drives and laptops from Navy ships undergoing maintenance. The equipment was stolen from the USS Pinckney, USS Curtis Wilbur and USS Spruance, and then sold online on eBay. Between November 2022 and August 2023, Saldivar made off with two laptops, two programmer units, four DC-DC converters, 18 power converters and 302 hard drives, valued at a total of $596,997.

The three Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers were at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard undergoing extensive upgrades. The U.S Department of Justice said in a statement that by stealing the equipment and selling it online, Saldivar put national security at risk: two of the hard drives contained classified military communications.

“Stealing from the military doesn’t just hurt the taxpayer, it puts our national security at risk. Our armed forces rely heavily on contract employees and service members must be able to trust the civilians standing by their side,” said Tara McGrath, U.S. Attorney.

Investigators were able to catch Saldivar after discovering that the hard drives were all removed by unscrewing them from their trays, then re-inserting the empty trays into the computer cabinets. The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory conducted a forensic analysis on fingerprints left inside the empty hard drive trays. Notably, the interior areas of the hard drive trays could only be touched after a hard drive was removed. The prints belonged to Saldivar.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents also traced eBay listings of some of the stolen equipment to Saldivar, and a search of his home recovered some of the items. 

Saldivar was ordered to pay the total value to the U.S government in restitution and pay back the payments received from eBay for sales of the stolen items.

“Mr. Saldivar’s criminal actions to steal nearly $600,000 worth of computer equipment from multiple U.S. Navy ships betrayed the Navy's warfighters, posed a threat to our national security, and wasted valuable taxpayer money,” said Special Agent in Charge Nicholas Carter, NCIS Southwest Field Office.