News center
Exceptional quality and customer-focused mentality


May 25, 2023

A former quality assurance official says there's no way to know for sure if there's a quality problem with valves on U.S. Navy submarines.

A former quality control official who pleaded guilty to criminal fraud charges on June 2 told a judge that the U.S. Navy never will have full assurance that crucial valves installed on its submarines were built correctly.

The statement by Wayne Aldrich, a former quality assurance manager at Hunt Valve — and a central figure in a Justice Department investigation into practices at Hunt — runs counter to the Navy's confident assessment of the valves in their fleet.

Hunt Valve, based in Salem, Ohio, sold thousands of valves to General Dynamics Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman Newport News for installation into Los-Angeles-class, Virginia-class and Seawolf-class submarines and other ships. Hunt also sold valves to the Department of Energy to contain spent uranium.

"There will always be the uncertainty that there could someday be a problem with this material," Aldrich said in an apology to U.S. District Court Judge Lesley Wells, of the Northern District of Ohio. He wrote the letter last July, and Wells read it aloud at the June 2 hearing.

"A sample product has been re-tested and found to be acceptable," he said. "But in the environment that these materials are used in, sampling will never replace a hundred percent assurance of acceptability … This product assurance was entrusted to myself and the management of Hunt Valve. I/we failed to provide that assurance. Quality documents were altered, had false statements made on them, and in particular, testing functions were not carried out to contract and specification requirements."

That statement paints a more problematic picture of the valves than a statement issued by Naval Sea Systems Command, of NAVSEA, the Navy division that oversees ship construction. It finished a detailed investigation into the valves in late 2003, concluding there's no major problem with them — at least none that puts the safety of ships or submariners in jeopardy.

"Based on a comprehensive review, NAVSEA has concluded that activities at Hunt Valve Company (HVC) have not resulted in hardware deficiencies that adversely affect ship or personnel safety, that in-service HVC valves are acceptable for use on Navy vessels, and that stock HVC valves are acceptable for installation on new construction ships and ships undergoing maintenance," the Navy said.

The Navy's investigation included shipboard valve performance, a review of past Navy inspections, and exacting inspections of 300 valves — out of more than 30,000 that were made. Though problems were found, the Navy deemed that none rendered ships or sailors unsafe.

General Dynamics Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman Newport News pointed to that Navy review in asserting that a recent whistleblower lawsuit against them has no merit.

Aldrich, who pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and fraud conspiracy in July 2004, was sentenced June 2 to two years and nine months in prison, and ordered to pay $4.18 million — part of the cost of the investigation.

He had been charged with running documents through fax machines to make them appear older, creating certifications after the fact, and altering scanned documents to show that inspections were done when they were not.

Aldrich, who federal prosecutors praised for cooperating in the investigation and for his clean past and history before the fraud charges, got a lighter sentence in return for agreeing to testify in a continuing Justice Department criminal case against other officials.

Valves, devices that regulate the flow of fluids, air, and gas, are used by the hundreds on nuclear-powered Navy submarines. Ranging from the size of a desk to a soda can, valves are found in everything from washrooms to the nuclear propulsion system.

In early 2001, whistleblowers Tina and William Gonter — a married couple who once worked at Norfolk Naval Shipyard before moving to Ohio in late 2000 to work for Hunt — told the Defense Department about problems at the company.

At the urging of Defense Department investigators, Tina Gonter wore a wire to record company officials until Hunt fired her in August of 2001. Federal agents raided Hunt Valve on Sept. 17, 2001.

Now, Hunt Valve is accused in a Justice Department civil case of knowingly selling valves worked on by non-qualified welders; having non-qualified inspectors — including a janitor — check out the valves; and falsifying numerous documents attesting to the valves’ quality. Hunt could not be reached for comment Friday.

Two Hunt Valve officials have so far pled guilty to criminal charges. Besides Aldrich, former vice president of military sales Larry Kelly has also pled guilty in the case.

Though it took up the case against Hunt, the Justice Department declined to intervene in the civil case against Electric Boat and Newport News. The Gonters sued the shipyards separately in a process allowed under the False Claims Act.

The Gonters maintain the two yards defrauded the government by not stopping the problems at Hunt even though they had "ample facts" to do so. The two shipyards, however, deny the assertions — pointing to the government's declining to intervene in the case and the Navy's conclusion on the valves — and vowed to vigorously fight the suit.

Frederick M. Morgan Jr., the attorney representing the Gonters with the Cincinnati firm of Volkema and Thomas, said he doesn't disagree with the Navy's decision not to cut open all the submarines to check the valves — an enormous and costly undertaking.

Much of the Navy's assurances about the safety of ships and sailors, he said, likely depend on backups — a system in which if a valve fails, for example, another mechanism kicks in to prevent a safety issue. A problem, Morgan said, could come with a catastrophe that triggered a cascade of events that caused the backups to fail, too.

"I don't fault the Navy for doing the best they could under the circumstances and keeping the submarines underwater," Morgan said. "But do I think that the Navy can say there is not a dangerous Hunt Valve out there? I don't think they can say that with the degree of certainty that they paid for."

In his letter to the judge last year, Aldrich, a husband and father, expressed remorse for what he called his "very wrong" actions. "I never got up in the morning and said to myself I’m going to commit fraud today," Aldrich said. "I should have had the moral strengths and courage to make the correct decisions."

He expressed remorse for the pain the ordeal has caused his family. "I know that they will forgive me, that God will forgive me and that someday I will be able to forgive myself, but I will always live with the knowledge that I let the people that mean the most in my life down."

He said he hoped his cooperation would be viewed "as acceptance of responsibility, and in some small way ease the weight of the final outcome." *


Late 2000: Tina and William Gonter, formerly quality control inspectors at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, begin working at Hunt Valve.

February 2001: Tina Gonter complains about Hunt to Defense Department investigators, who ask her to wear a wire.

August 2001: Tina Gonter is fired from Hunt Valve.

September 2001: Federal agents raid Hunt Valve to gather information.

October 2003: Navy finishes a sampling of Hunt valves and concludes they don't pose a safety risk.

July 2004: Wayne Aldrich, former quality control manager at Hunt Valve, pleads guilty to fraud charges in a plea agreement.

February 2005: Larry Kelly, former vice president of Hunt's military division, charged with fraud and conspiracy. He pleads guilty.

April 2005: Judge unseals Gonters’ civil lawsuit against Hunt Valve, General Dynamics Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman Newport News. Justice Department joins in the case against Hunt.

June 2005: Aldrich sentenced to 33 months in federal prison, and ordered to pay $4.2 million.

Next week: Defendants in civil case to respond to allegations. *

Sign up for email newsletters

Follow Us