Three former Coast Guard employees are among 31 people indicted in an alleged long-running scheme to fix the scores of mariners taking the USCG exams required by law to safely and knowledgeably work aboard vessels.
The indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana alleges that Coast Guard credentialing specialist Dorothy Smith took bribes to alter test scores with former Coast Guard employees Beverly McCrary and Eldridge Johnson acting as intermediaries.
All mariners working on U.S. merchant vessels over 100 tons must obtain merchant marine credentials, with some positions requiring additional rating or officer endorsements and being subject to examinations administered by the Coast Guard. The REC New Orleans in Mandeville, La., is one of the regional exam centers where mariner applicants were tested and processed for their credentials.
The defendants include the three USCG employees and people who worked in the maritime industry, including credentialed mariners who wanted to add an officer-level endorsement to their merchant mariner credentials.
According to the indictment, from at least 2012 to 2019 Smith would “falsely report to the United States Coast Guard that credential applicants had appeared for examinations required for certain endorsements, had passed such examinations, had achieved certain examination module scores, had fulfilled certain requirements for endorsements, and should receive certain endorsements.”
In return, the indictment alleges, Smith “would demand, seek, receive, accept, and agree to receive and accept” cash bribes, using “a network of intermediaries to communicate with, and receive money from, coconspirator credential applicants.”
McCrary worked as a USCG credentialing specialist at REC New Orleans until August 2015. Johnson worked for the Coast Guard as an examination administrator at the site until January 2018. The indictment charges that Johnson was part of the scheme after leaving his USCG job, and that McCrary engaged in the scheme during and after her Coast Guard employment.
They, along with maritime industry employees Alexis Bell, Micheal Wooten, Sharron Robinson, and Alonzo Williams, would “directly and indirectly solicit and recruit credential applicants to participate in the conspiracy,” the indictment alleges, and they in turn paid Smith to submit fraudulent credential reports.
Bell, Wooten, Robinson, Williams and other applicants listed in the indictment “obtained unearned endorsements” through Smith’s false USCG reports for positions including master, chief mate, second mate, third mate, chief engineer, first assistant engineer, second assistant engineer, and third engineer, “including such endorsements that imposed no limitation as to vessel weight and vessel horsepower.”
According to the indictment, in the scheme that eventually funneled money to Smith to fix the test scores one applicant paid McCrary $1,500 to get false passing examination scores, Williams gave $3,500 to Bell at one point so an applicant could get fraudulent scores, and Johnson — after his Coast Guard employment had ended — paid $1,000 to Smith to obtain false scores for a credential applicant.
Some of the applicants held the fraudulently obtained merchant mariner credentials and endorsements for several years.
The case is being investigated by the Coast Guard Investigative Service. If convicted, each defendant faces a sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release and a mandatory $100.00 special assessment.