US: Company provided subpar steel for Navy submarine hulls
SEATTLE (AP) - For decades, the leading supplier of high-strength steel to marine submarines has been delivering below-average metal because one of the company's longstanding employees has falsified laboratory results - which put seafarers at greater risk in the event of collisions or other bumps, the attorney general said in court records Monday.
The Kansas City supplier Bradken Inc. paid $ 10.9 million under a deferred law enforcement agreement, the Department of Justice said. The company supplies steel castings that Navy contractors use to manufacture Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding submarine hulls.
Bradken acquired a foundry in Tacoma, Washington in 2008 that manufactured steel castings for the Navy. In 2017, according to federal prosecutors, Bradken learned that the foundry's metallurgy director falsified the results of strength tests, indicating that the steel was strong enough to meet the marine requirements, though it wasn't.
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Prosecutors say the company initially shared its results with the Navy, but then incorrectly pointed out that the inconsistencies were not due to fraud. This hampered the Navy's investigation into the scale of the problem and its efforts to reduce the risks to its seafarers, the prosecutor said.
"Bradken has jeopardized the Navy's seafarers and their operations," Seattle lawyer Brian Moran said in a press release. "Government contractors must not tolerate fraud in their organizations, and they must fully support the government when they discover it."
The court documents do not claim that submarine parts have failed, but Moran said the Navy caused increased costs and maintenance to ensure that the submarines remained seaworthy. The government did not announce which submarines were affected.
Foundry metallurgy director Elaine Thomas, 66, of Auburn, Washington, has been criminally charged with serious fraud against the United States. Thomas, who had worked in various functions in the laboratory for 40 years, was due to appear before the Federal Supreme Court on June 30. Her lawyer John Carpenter declined to comment.
According to the criminal complaint, the investigators were able to compare internal company records with the test results certified by Thomas. The analysis found that it produced the results of 240 steel productions that represented almost half of the high-performance steel Bradken made for Navy submarines - often toughness tests at minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the complaint said.
When a Department of Defense Special Criminal Investigative Service agent confronted her with false results from 1990, she finally admitted that the results had changed - "Yes, that looks bad," the complaint quoted her. She said she might have done it because she thought it was "a stupid requirement" that the test be done at such a cold temperature, the complaint said.
Investigators said the scam had come to light when a metallurgist, who was prepared to replace Thomas after her planned retirement in 2017, noticed some suspicious results. The company said it fired Thomas immediately.
"While the company acknowledges that it did not discover and disclose the full extent of the problem at the initial stage of the investigation, the government has recognized Bradken's collaboration over the past eighteen months as exceptional," the company said in an email sent declaration. “Bradken has long been proud to serve his customers, and this incident is not representative of our organization. We deeply regret that a trustworthy employee has participated in this behavior. "
Bradken agreed to take measures that include increased laboratory monitoring, fraud protection and changes in the foundry's management team. If Bradken meets the requirements of the deferred law enforcement agreement, the government will dismiss the fraud charges after three years.
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