The former chief metallurgist of the United States Navy’s top supplier of high-strength steel for nuclear submarines was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for her role in falsifying quality tests on Monday.
The suspect, identified as Elaine Marie Thomas, 67, ran one of the “longest-running military procurement fraud schemes in history,” according to head prosecutor Seth Wilkinson. The alleged fraud began in the mid-1980s and lasted nearly four decades.
Bradken Inc., Thomas’ former employer, was the leading supplier of high-yield steel castings for submarine construction to the United States Navy. In 2008, the company purchased a Tacoma foundry that produces the castings used by the Navy’s two prime contractors to build submarine hulls. The Navy requires that the steel pass stringent strength and toughness tests.
Thomas, the Tacoma foundry’s director of metallurgy, admitted to falsifying results to conceal the fact that the steel had failed certain strength tests, specifically one for resistance to cracking in extremely cold conditions. According to charging documents, Thomas falsified the results for over 240 batches of HY-80 and HY-100 steel, accounting for a “significant percentage” of the castings produced by the foundry for the Navy between 1985 and 2017. Federal investigators were contacted, and Thomas was charged with fraud; she pled guilty in November of last year.
This pattern of fraud, according to Bradken, resulted in the installation of “hundreds of substandard castings on Navy vessels” built by General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries. According to prosecutors, Bradken’s management was unaware of the fraudulent test results until May 2017, when a new lab manager took over and reported that Thomas’ test cards appeared to have been systematically altered.
Prosecutors sought a six-year sentence for Thomas, citing the high cost of testing for the Navy and the unknown extent of any flaws Thomas may have allowed to creep into the design of some of America’s most important weapons systems. According to the Kitsap Sun, the judge described Thomas’ long-running deception as a “baffling” crime of “pride and ego” during sentencing.