NEWPORT NEWS — The U.S. government has filed criminal charges against a former
shipyard inspector, accusing him of lying about weld certifications on Navy ships that he did not inspect.
Robert R. Ruks Jr., of Portsmouth, was accused of knowingly making a false and fraudulent statement to Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents in May 2009, when he told them he "only falsified certifications on welds" on one unit of one ship.
The second of two criminal counts filed Monday in the Newport News division of Norfolk's federal court asserts that in July 2007 Ruks knowingly signed off on a certification of a pipe joint weld that he did not inspect.
By applying his signature and employee ID number on the record of the pipe joint, Ruks indicated that he inspected the pipe joint weld on "Ship 780" when he knew he had not inspected that joint, according to the court filing. Although the filing did not identify the vessel, the SSN-780 is the USS Missouri submarine, the seventh boat of the Virginia class. It was commissioned in July 2010 and is homeported in
The Missouri is included on a list of 13 Navy vessels built or repaired in Newport News that Ruks worked on, the Navy said in 2009.
Ruks, 34, faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for each charge, said Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, in an e-mail.
's Newport News shipyard fired Ruks shortly after he admitted to falsifying the documents. Jennifer Dellapenta, a shipyard spokeswoman, said the company is cooperating with the government and deferred all questions on the case to NCIS, which declined to comment.
The public defender assigned to Ruks, Arenda Wright-Allen, did not return a call Thursday morning seeking comment.
Ruks had not been arrested as of Thursday morning. No court date has been set.
Ruks, who began as an inspector at the yard in 2005, told the Daily Press in June 2009 that he regretted his actions.
"I made a mistake. I made a big mistake," Ruks said at the time. "I'd just like to get this over with and leave my family out of this."
In his four years as an inspector at the shipyard, Ruks worked on at least 13 Navy ships, including four carriers and nine submarines, according to the Navy. The majority of his inspections were performed on submarines.
During that time, Ruks, an hourly employee, inspected and signed off on thousands of structural and piping welds, the Navy said.
Northrop informed the Navy of the issue in mid-May 2009, and the two launched a sweeping probe into all vessels Ruks had inspected.
A co-worker tipped off the inspector's supervisor of the falsified inspection documents, the company said at the time.
Each Navy vessel built in Newport News requires hundreds of thousands of welds to construct. Inspectors like Ruks follow welders and fitters, using special equipment to determine if the welds are completed correctly. They look for cracks and other imperfections that could threaten the long-term integrity and stability of joints.
Because Ruks admitted to not inspecting some of the welds he was assigned to scrutinize, the Navy and the shipyard have no way of knowing if those welds are structurally sound.
When the investigation became public, the Navy said that welds that had potentially gone without inspection posed no immediate threat to underway aircraft carriers or submarines.
In the 2009 interview, Ruks said he acted alone, but declined to offer any other specifics on the case.
"I feel bad about what I did, especially in regard to submarines," he said at the time. "I just want this to be over."
A number of people and companies doing shipbuilding work for the Navy have faced criminal charges in recent years.
James Bullick, the president of a
metal parts broker who supplied the Navy with steel and other metal parts that did not meet stringent Navy specifications for submarines, was sentenced earlier this month to 41 months in prison. He and his company, Bristol Alloys Inc., were ordered to pay $1.35 million in restitution.
Bullick admitted in court that he supplied a Navy subcontractor with metals that had not been heat-treated to meet contractual requirements. That metal was later used to build Virginia class submarines.
Alloys supplied more than $1 million in metal to
-based Garvey Precision Machine Inc., which then sold the parts to Northrop Grumman Corp., according to court documents.
Although none of the submarine parts included in the fraud case have failed or malfunctioned, the Navy estimated that it could cost the government more than $30 million to find and replace the parts on subs and other surface ships over the next five years.
In 2005 and 2006, two former officials for
-based Hunt Valve were given prison sentences for their role in falsifying quality-control documents about the safety of valves used in Navy submarines.
Electrolizing Corp., a
, Ohio-based company that provided metal plating for Navy submarines, paid $1.5 million in 2007 to settle a civil suit that claimed the company performed some work improperly and covered it up by falsifying test results and certifications.