Former metallurgist convicted of falsifying steel-test results for US Navy subs

The former director of metallurgy at Bradken Inc. Elaine Thomas was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and must pay a $50,000 fine after pleading guilty to falsifying test results that measure the strength and toughness of steel used in US Navy submarines.

Initially, the 67-year old woman faced up to 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine when sentenced by US District Judge Benjamin H. Settle. The judge sentenced Thomas noting that even after an exhaustive Navy investigation, “we don’t know the full ramifications of this fraud.” Prosecutor Nick Brown said Thomas betrayed the Navy’s trust for 32 years, “knowingly placing its sailors and military operations at risk.”

According to records filed in the case, Bradken is the US Navy’s leading supplier of cast high-yield steel for naval submarines.  Bradken’s Tacoma foundry produces castings that prime contractors use to fabricate submarine hulls. 

The US Navy requires that the steel meets certain standards for strength and toughness to ensure that it does not fail under certain circumstances, such as a collision.  For 30 years, the Tacoma foundry (which was acquired by Bradken in 2008), produced castings, many of which had failed lab tests and did not meet the navy’s standards, according to the statement.

Back in June 2020, Bradken entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, accepting responsibility for the offense and agreeing to take remedial measures. 

Elaine Thomas, who was a director of metallurgy at that time, falsified test results to hide the fact that the steel had failed the tests.  Thomas falsified results for over 240 productions of steel, which represent a substantial percentage of the castings Bradken produced for the navy, the statement reads.

On the other hand, the court filings indicated there is no evidence that Bradken’s management was aware of the fraud until May 2017.  At that time, a lab employee discovered that test cards had been altered and that other discrepancies existed in Bradken’s records.  

Bradken also entered into a civil settlement, paying $10.8 million to resolve allegations that the foundry produced and sold substandard steel components for installation on US Navy submarines.

Even though there was no indication that the submarine hulls failed at any time, the authorities said the navy has spent nearly $14 million, including 50,000 hours of engineering work, to assess the parts and risk to the 30 submarines affected.

“Our Sailors and Marines depend upon high quality products and services from our contractors to safely and effectively meet the worldwide mission of the Department of the Navy,” US Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said.

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

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Photo: An artist rendering of the future Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines. Photo: US Navy