Ex-Navy employee's girlfriend agrees to plead guilty in $10 million RI kickbacks investigation

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – One of two remaining defendants in a kickback scheme that targeted the U.S. Navy said on Tuesday she plans to change her plea to guilty, and a federal court filing she made indicates her boyfriend, accused of being the ringleader of the scheme, will do the same.

Mary O’Rourke, who was charged last year and had pleaded not guilty, said she would plead guilty to theft of government property. A plea agreement signed by her and prosecutors and filed with U.S. District Court in Providence says she received somewhere in the range of $200,000 to $1 million in government funds from the scheme.

O’Rourke’s boyfriend, former Navy employee Ralph M. Mariano, of South Arlington, Va., is accused of orchestrating a scheme that netted him and others millions of dollars. Prosecutors say that in his job as a civilian engineer at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center he could authorize or refuse payments to contractors and used that power to approve payments to Georgia-based contractor Advanced Solutions for Tomorrow, or ASFT. In return, prosecutors say, the contractor, which also had an office in Middletown, funneled kickbacks to him and others.

Mariano was charged in 2011 and has pleaded not guilty to dozens of counts including conspiracy, theft of government property, wire fraud, bribery, extortion and tax evasion. O’Rourke, who is an attorney and was an executive for ASFT in Rhode Island, faced counts including conspiracy, theft of government property and wire fraud. They had been scheduled to go to trial on June 3.

The agreement O’Rourke signed with prosecutors describes it as “part of a package plea agreement” in which Mariano also will plead guilty. Mariano’s lawyer did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

According to O’Rourke’s plea deal, if Mariano does not also plead guilty, her deal will be “null and void.”

“The intent of the United States and the defendants is to resolve this entire case by way of guilty pleas entered by all defendants so as to avoid the necessity of any trial,” it says.

Six people were charged in the case, and four have pleaded guilty: ASFT’s founder, Anjan Dutta-Gupta, of Roswell, Ga.; former ASFT executive Patrick Nagle, of Marietta, Ga.; ASFT subcontractor Russell Spencer, who has said he acted as a middleman; and Mariano’s father, Ralph Mariano Jr., who prosecutors say received more than $2 million from the scheme. None of them has been sentenced.

Investigators say the scheme lasted for about 15 years, from 1996 to 2011, when charges were first filed.

In exchange for O’Rourke’s guilty plea, the government agreed not to recommend prison time but to instead recommend probation, according to court papers. The judge, however, could still sentence her to prison.

While guilty pleas by Mariano and O’Rourke would bring an end to the criminal prosecution, their pleas are unlikely to be the end of the case.

A whistle-blower lawsuit first filed under seal in Georgia in 2006 and later transferred and unsealed in Rhode Island alleges wrongdoing by some of the people charged and others. It makes similar allegations, but many of the claims in the cases are different.

The whistle-blower lawsuit was put on hold during the criminal case.