Two Navy contractors were arrested and charged Wednesday for allegedly giving false information about two separate hoax bomb threats made to Naval Base San Diego, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Joshua Rice, 26, and Roberto Rubio, 22, were charged in two separate incidents that prompted mass evacuations aboard Navy ships and the nearby pier where they were docked, according to U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy.
The arrests come after a spate of hoaxes at naval facilities in San Diego. In at least the two incidents identified by prosecutors, the hoaxes were allegedly made to get out of work early.
“Everyone should know that making false bomb threats is taken very seriously by federal law enforcement, and it is a felony offense,” Duffy said.
Both men were arraigned Thursday, but it's not clear whether they entered pleas, The Associated Press reported.
Rice reported that he found the word "bomb" written on the inside of a portable toilet located near three naval vessels docked at the base on May 17, according to the news release.
The bomb hoax prompted a security response, including from military K-9 officers. Work on nearby ships and the pier was shut down as well, though the area was deemed safe and the scene was cleared a few hours later.
That hoax was the 17th threat to a U.S. Navy facility in San Diego since November 2015 at that time. The number of threats has increased since, bringing the total up to 32.
Officials say the other threats are not connected. You can read more about the incident here.
Rice had been working as a contractor for American Marine at the time.
American Marine General Manager Pat Riley told NBC 7 that Rice worked for the company for 11 months and had a good work ethic.
"His Navy base access security credentials were retained by the Navy after his meeting with NCIS on June 23," Riley said.
Without security clearance to perform the necessary work, Rice was terminated on June 30, Riley added.
Rice is scheduled to appear in court on January 30.
In a separate incident, Roberto Rubio was charged with writing "9-24-16 400 bomb" on a wall aboard USS Cowpens on September 24, according to the indictment.
Rubio then allegedly reported the writing to another contractor, which once again prompted a security response on the San Diego Ship Repair Facility. Work on the ship was stopped until authorities deemed it was safe.
He was working as a welder for BAE Systems, a contractor for the Navy, athorities siad.
BAE Sytems spokesperson Karl Johnson told NBC 7 that Rubio worked for the company from August 2015 to October 2016.
“We'll continue to cooperate with authorities going forward," Johnson said.
Rubio is expected to be in court on January 9.
In addition to the 17 threats, 15 other bomb hoaxes were called in to U.S. Navy facilities and local properties owned by BAE Shipyards and NASSCO since November 2015, according to the U.S. Navy.
“The bomb threats on and around Naval Base San Diego since November 2015 have had a huge negative impact on the efficiency and productivity of the shipyard's efforts to maintain Navy readiness,” said Gunnar Newquist, Special Agent in Charge of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service Southwest Field Office.
But the prosecution suggests it was a ploy to end work early.
"Our biggest concern is we don't want someone doing it because they think it is an easy way to get off work we want people to understand it is a serious crime," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Pettit.
In August, a $20,000 reward was offered for information leading to an arrest of anyone involved in the false threats.
Pettit told NBC 7 that Rubio and Rice are only facing charges related to those two separate incidents.
If convicted, both Rice and Ruibo could face up to 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.