Metallurgist Who Tested Steel for US Navy Subs Admits Faking Results

Metallurgist Who Tested Steel for US Navy Subs Admits Faking Results

Elaine Marie Thomas, a 67-year-old former director of metallurgy, worked from 1985 to 2017 at a Washington foundry called Bradken that supplied steel submarine hull castings to the US Navy. During that time, Thomas was responsible for testing steel castings to verify their strength and toughness. Testing was conducted at extremely cold temperatures (-100F, -70C), which helped to ensure that the material wouldn’t fail in the event of a collision or other dangerous circumstances. Thomas found it “stupid” that the tests needed to be conducted under such extreme conditions and falsely recorded positive test results to make the castings appear more durable than they might have been. She faked steel test results in at least 240 cases—a “substantial percentage of the castings Bradken produced for the Navy,” according to prosecutors.

Despite the foundry changing ownership in 2008, evidence of Thomas’s fraudulent habits didn’t emerge until 2017, when a lab employee found that Thomas had altered steel test cards. The United States Attorney’s Office filed a criminal complaint charging Thomas with Major Fraud Against the US. During the Navy’s initial investigation of Thomas’s wrongdoings, it also found that Bradken had invoiced the Navy as if the castings sold had met the rigorous standards they never actually met. Bradken has since been required to enter into a compliance agreement with the Navy, in which Bradken has been ordered to create a compliance and risk committee as well as hire people who specifically oversee lab testing and tracking.

Metallurgist Who Tested Steel for US Navy Subs Admits Faking Results

In 2020, Thomas entered into a deferred prosecution agreement that required her to admit responsibility for faking the test results and comply with certain remedial measures, including the payment of $10.8 million in fines. The agreement, should Thomas fulfill it completely, will allow the government to dismiss all criminal charges after three years.

Fortunately, no submarine hulls under Thomas’s watch have failed. The Navy, to great financial cost, has taken steps to ensure that affected submarines are operated safely since the discovery of the fraudulent test results.

Thomas is scheduled to be sentenced in February 2022. She faces up to 10 years in prison, on top of a maximum $1 million fine.

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