Woman Admits Faking Steel Strength Tests for U.S. Navy Submarines

A metallurgist has pleaded guilty to faking the results of strength tests on steel used in U.S. Navy submarines during decades of work at a facility in Tacoma, Washington.

Elaine Marie Thomas, who is 67 and from Auburn, Washington, pleaded guilty to fraud in U.S. District Court on Monday in a case where prosecutors alleged she falsified results in at least 240 productions of steel between 1985 and 2017.

The Navy has not disclosed which submarines were affected by Thomas' actions and there is no allegation that any of the vessels' hulls failed. However, repairs and maintenance were required to make them seaworthy, incurring increased costs.

Thomas was director of metallurgy at a foundry in Tacoma. That foundry provided steel castings used by contractors in the construction of submarine hulls for the Navy.

The foundry was acquired by Bradken in 2008 but the company was unaware of the fraud until 2017, when another metallurgist discovered that test cards had been altered, as well as other discrepancies, and informed the company.

When she was confronted with that information, Thomas reportedly said "Yeah, that looks bad" and suggested she had falsified some test results because she believed the Navy's policy of testing at -100F (-70C) was "stupid."

Thomas now faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $1 million. She will be sentenced in February.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington acknowledged in a statement that Bradken was unaware of the fraud before 2017 and disclosed the situation to the Navy when they discovered it. They also fired Thomas once the falsified results came to light.

However, prosecutors said Bradken also "made misleading statements suggesting that the discrepancies were not the result of fraud."

Bradken admitted that those statements "hindered the Navy's investigation and its efforts to remediate the risks presented by Bradken's fraud" and the company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement and paid a fine of more than $10.8 million in 2020.

Thomas' attorney, John Carpenter, filed a statement on her behalf with the U.S. District Court on Monday saying she "took shortcuts and made material misrepresentations."

"Ms Thomas never intended to compromise the integrity of any material and is gratified that the government's testing does not suggest that the structural integrity of any submarine was in fact compromised," Carpenter wrote.

"This offense is unique in that it was neither motivated by greed nor any desire for personal enrichment. She regrets that she failed to follow her moral compass - admitting to false statements is hardly how she envisioned living out her retirement years," he added.

The Department of Justice has said it will recommend a prison sentence at the low end of what the court decides is the sentencing range in Thomas' case.

USS Michigan Arrives in Busan, South Korea
In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile submarine USS Michigan is greeted on April 25, 2017 as it arrives in Busan, South Korea. A woman had pleaded guilty to falsify tests on steel used in U.S Navy submarines. USN Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jermaine Ralliford/Getty Images