3 waive jury trial in RI in Navy kickbacks case

Three people accused in an alleged kickback scheme that prosecutors say cost the U.S. Navy $10 million have waived a jury trial, and a federal judge in Rhode Island will instead decide whether they are guilty in a bench trial scheduled to begin in June.

U.S. District Judge Mary Lisi on Friday approved requests to waive jury trials by Ralph Mariano, 55, of South Arlington, Va., his girlfriend, Mary O'Rourke, 49, and his father, Ralph Mariano Jr., 81, of North Providence, R.I. The younger Mariano and O'Rourke are charged with counts including conspiracy, theft of government property and wire fraud. Mariano Jr. is charged with tax evasion, as is his son.

All three have pleaded not guilty.

The younger Mariano was a civilian employee of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center until 2011, when he and others were charged in the alleged scheme. Prosecutors say he had the power to authorize or refuse payments to contractors and used that power to orchestrate a scheme in which he would approve payments to Georgia-based Navy contractor Advanced Solutions for Tomorrow, or ASFT, which would then funnel back some of the money to him, O'Rourke, his father and others.

O'Rourke, who is an attorney, was a vice president at ASFT, a job prosecutors say she was given at Mariano's direction in 1998. ASFT also had an office in Middletown, R.I.

Lisi on Friday asked Mariano, his father and O'Rourke a series of questions to make sure they understood they were waiving their right to a trial by jury and that she alone would decide whether they are guilty or not guilty. Mariano and O'Rourke both cited the complexity of the case as reasons for preferring a bench trial. Mariano's lawyer, Robert Corrente, has said the evidence in the case includes several million pieces of paper.

"I think your honor is better suited to hear this case and make a final judgment," O'Rourke told Lisi in explaining why she was waiving her right to trial by jury.

Mariano Jr. said he thought he would be better off with the judge.

"I'm leery of 12 people deciding my fate," Mariano Jr. told the judge. "I've thought it through, and this is what I think is best."

Three other people have pleaded guilty in the case but have not yet been sentenced. They include the owner and founder of ASFT, Anjan Dutta-Gupta, of Roswell, Ga., who admitted paying $8 million in bribes over more than a decade; Patrick Nagle, of Marietta, Ga., a former executive for ASFT, charged with conspiracy to commit bribery; and Russell Spencer who acted as a middleman for the money.