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Sailor admits to illegally taking photos inside submarine that was based in Groton

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A 29-year-old Navy sailor pleaded guilty Friday to a federal charge stemming from photos he took while serving as a machinist's mate aboard the USS Alexandria, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine that was homeported at the time in Groton.

Petty Officer First Class Kristian Saucier, 29, of Arlington, Vt., pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized possession and retention of national defense information before U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill in Bridgeport.

"I'm in no rush," Underhill told Saucier before informing him of his rights and explaining the rights he'd forfeit and the consequences he'd face as a result of pleading guilty.

Underhill also explained that if Saucier pleaded guilty, he would be a convicted felon and could receive a dishonorable discharge from the military.

Saucier, who wore his blue crackerjack uniform, is assigned to the Naval Support Activity Base in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and is awaiting an administrative separation board proceeding.

From September 2007 to March 2012, Saucier was a machinist's mate aboard the USS Alexandria, which was based at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton until November 2015 when its homeport changed to Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, Calif.

According to the government, Saucier used his cellphone camera to take photos of classified spaces, instruments and equipment on at least three occasions in 2009.

The Navy confirmed that the USS Alexandria was in Groton during each of the dates the pictures were taken in 2009.

Prosecutors allege that Saucier took 12 photos inside the engine room of the USS Alexandria, and that the photos "increased in both sensitivity and classification."

No people appear in the photographs, only equipment, according to court documents.

Two of the photos were taken inside the reactor compartment, where the nuclear reactor is located, according to the government.

The reactor creates the power to operate and propel the submarine.

The government contends that Saucier had a secret clearance and knew that the photos depicted classified material and that he was not authorized to take them.

After the Navy discovered that two of Saucier's shipmates had taken photos of one of the sailors in the engine room, the Navy in January 2011 provided additional, mandatory training that "concentrated on the prohibitions of taking photographs in this area," according to court documents.

The government has not provided a motive in the case.

Members of Saucier's family were in the courtroom Friday, including his mother, wife and young daughter.

His mother, Kathleen Saucier, started a GoFundMe page to raise money for her son's legal defense. The page had raised $6,400 from 53 people as of Friday afternoon.

"Our family has been fighting this injustice for the last 4 years and have exhausted our resources- we have drained bank accounts, sold property, maxed out credit cards and at this point have spent over $40,000 in his defense," she wrote on the fundraising page. "My son could potentially LOSE ALL VETERANS MEDICAL BENEFITS AND FUTURE BENEFITS! Although we ALL want this nightmare to be over, we have continued to maintain his innocence and the clear abuse of power by the government agencies involved- the very same agencies my son has devoted his adult years defending."

When reached by email, Kathleen Saucier said she was "unable to comment at this time," and directed questions to her son's lawyer, Derrick Hogan.

"Today Mr. Saucier accepted responsibility for his actions," Hogan said by phone Friday afternoon. "He was 22 years old at time and is ready to move forward and accept responsibility for his actions."

Levi Lovett, a former shipmate of Saucier's on the USS Alexandria, said by phone Friday that Saucier was "one of the best mechanics we had."

Lovett described Saucier as a "great guy" with a "great work ethic."

The two lived together for several years.

"I loved him like a brother," said Lovett, who got out of the Navy in August 2011.

The investigation into Saucier started in March 2012, when his cellphone was found at a waste transfer station in Hampton.

The supervisor of the waste station found the cellphone on top of a pile of trash in a dumpster, and decided to use it as his personal cellphone, according to court documents.

When looking through the phone, the supervisor found photos "that appeared to him to be of a Navy ship and the ship's instrument panels," and of Saucier, who he recognized because Saucier was remodeling his home at the time and making frequent visits to the dump, according to court documents.

The supervisor showed the photos to a friend, a retired Navy chief, who reviewed the photos and brought the phone to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

After Saucier was interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the NCIS in July 2012, he destroyed a laptop computer, a personal camera and the camera's memory card, according to the government.

He was arrested on a criminal complaint on May 28, 2015, and was subsequently indicted in July 2015 on one count of unlawful retention of national defense information and one count of obstruction of justice, both felony charges.

There was no mention of the second count during Friday's proceeding. Typically, the government moves to dismiss the other counts in the indictment at the time of sentencing.

The change of plea hearing on Friday took place days before a jury trial was expected to start in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport. The trial was slated to start on May 31.

Saucier said Friday that he was under the care of a psychologist and a psychiatrist at the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center and that he was taking medication, but that he clearly understood the charges against him.

Saucier is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 19, when he could be sentenced to between 63 to 78 months in prison.

The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.

j.bergman@theday.com

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