Auburn steelworker gets 2.5 years for tampering with tests on underparts

SEATTLE — A Washington state steelworker was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison and fined $50,000 on Monday after spending decades simulating the results of stress tests on steel used to make US Navy submarines.

Elaine Marie Thomas, 67, of Auburn, Wash., was a metallurgy manager at a Tacoma foundry that supplied steel castings used by marine contractors Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding to make undercarriage hulls. sailors.

From 1985 to 2017, Thomas falsified strength and toughness test results for approximately half of the steel produced by the foundry for the Navy.

The tests were intended to show the steel would not fail in a collision or in certain “wartime scenarios”, the Justice Department said.

Thomas pleaded guilty to fraud last November. U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle sentenced her to Tacoma, calling her actions “a crime of pride and ego, which somehow she knew better than those who set the standards,” according to a press release from the Seattle U.S. Attorney Nick Brown.

The sentence was less than half of the nearly six years required by prosecutors.

“Our Sailors and Marines depend on the high quality products and services of our contractors to safely and effectively fulfill the Department of the Navy’s global mission,” said Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro.

“We will continue to insist that our contractors meet these high standards.”

There were no allegations that any submarine hulls had failed. But authorities said the Navy spent nearly $14 million, including 50,000 hours of engineering work, assessing parts and risks for the 30 affected submarines.

The Navy says it will incur additional costs by continuing to monitor submarines.

Thomas’ conduct came to light in 2017, when a metalworker trained to replace her noticed suspicious test results and alerted their company, Kansas City-based Bradken Inc., which acquired the foundry in 2008.

Bradken fired Thomas and first disclosed his findings to the Navy, but the company later incorrectly suggested that the discrepancies were not the result of fraud.

This hampered the Navy’s investigation into the extent of the problem as well as its efforts to address the risks to its sailors, prosecutors said.

In June 2020, the company agreed to pay $10.9 million under a deferred prosecution agreement.

When confronted with the doctored results, Thomas told investigators, “Yeah, that looks bad,” the Justice Department said.

She suggested that in some cases she changed the tests to passing grades because she thought it was “dumb” for the Navy to require the tests to be conducted at minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a letter to the court, Thomas said she was mortified by what she had done.

Her attorney, John Carpenter, noted in a sentencing memorandum that she did not gain financially by falsifying test results. He asked a sentence of probation.

“Ms. Thomas is a good person who has let a number of work pressures cause her to make bad decisions,” he wrote. “Ms. Thomas never intended to endanger any sailor and is glad the Navy’s tests compel the conclusion that she didn’t.

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