Criminal charges filed against ex-inspector at Newport News shipyard
Newport News Shipbuilding has its new name painted onto the 50th Street crane. The north yard's crane name has not changed yet to Newport News Shipbuilding. (Joe Fudge, Daily Press / June 29, 2011)
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 Groton, Conn.
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.
Northrop Grumman Corp.'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.