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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Navy takes away NUWC's authority to issue contracts

    The Navy has suspended the authority of the Newport-based Naval Undersea Warfare Center to issue contracts - the first time it has taken away this ability from a command.

    The reprimand comes after the president of a technology services company agreed to plead guilty to bribing a public official with millions in funds from Navy contracts. The public official and co-defendant in the case, Ralph Mariano, worked as a senior systems engineer for the warfare center in Newport, R.I.

    To regain its authority, the warfare center must present a detailed plan addressing the issues that led to the suspension, "to restore our confidence they have proper oversight in place," Pat Dolan, director of corporate communications at the Naval Sea Systems Command, said Tuesday.

    Robert Ambrico, of East Lyme, who retired in 2001 after 30 years as an engineer at the warfare center, called the entire situation "shameful," but questioned whether suspending the contract authority was a "knee-jerk reaction."

    "It seems like a drastic and hard way to go about things. I don't know how they're going to get things done if they can't write any contracts," said Ambrico, who worked at the center when it was in New London. In 1995, the work force transferred from New London to the Newport facility and Ambrico then worked for NUWC at the submarine base.

    "Certainly they needed to do something to tighten up things," Ambrico said, who added that very few people at the center are in the position to change contracts. "I couldn't have done that on any contract I worked on, and most of us could not have actually."

    NAVSEA is handling the contracts during the suspension, Dolan said. The Naval Undersea Warfare Center is a command within NAVSEA responsible for submarine warfare systems.

    In the aftermath of the kickback scheme, the NAVSEA commander appointed a team to review the handling of contracts and to recommend ways to lessen the risk of fraud. The team finished its study Friday, and NAVSEA suspended the warfare center's contracting authority that day as a result.

    A Navy statement said, "NAVSEA determined that this action was necessary due to lapses in the technical and requirements communities to sufficiently describe work ordered, effectively account for work ordered and received, and to provide proper surveillance and oversight of that work."

    The team found other "vulnerabilities and process failures which enabled this fraud to occur and provided several recommendations to address these vulnerabilities and process deficiencies," according to the statement, which did not describe those failures or recommendations.

    Anjan Dutta-Gupta, 58, founder and president of Advanced Solutions for Tomorrow, agreed to plead guilty in U.S. District Court in Providence on Thursday to paying bribes to Mariano, a civilian program manager and senior systems engineer, and to others, according to U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha. Advanced Solutions for Tomorrow had offices in Middletown, R.I., and Georgia.

    According to court documents, Dutta-Gupta's company paid at least $8 million from 1996 to 2011, largely through subcontractors, to Mariano, as well as to Mariano's family members, associates and an employee at Advanced Solutions for Tomorrow. In addition, at least $1.2 million was funneled to a corporation Dutta-Gupta owned, the documents say.

    In exchange for the kickbacks, Mariano made sure that millions of dollars in additional funds were added to Advanced Solutions for Tomorrow's contracts and that the invoices were paid, the documents say.

    In exchange for Dutta-Gupta's guilty plea, the government will recommend a lesser sentence. The maximum penalty is 15 years in prison, fines and three years of supervised release. Dutta-Gupta, of Roswell, Ga., agreed to provide information to government representatives and to testify at future legal proceedings, including the grand jury.

    The U.S. attorney in Rhode Island is continuing to investigate, along with agents from the Defense Criminal Services, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, FBI and Internal Revenue Service. Mariano, 52, of Arlington, Va., has been charged with participating in the alleged kickback scheme and is awaiting trial. He remains free on a $50,000 bond.

    j.mcdermott@theday.com

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