Former Coast Guard exam center worker charged with bribery

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(NEW ORLEANS) — A former U.S. Coast Guard employee has been charged with bribery while serving in his role at a Coast Guard examination center in Louisiana.

Eldridge Johnson was previously charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States in an indictment that pertained to Johnson’s conduct after he retired from the Coast Guard. The superseding bill of information includes that conspiracy charge and adds the new allegation of bribery, which relates to Johnson’s conduct as an exam administrator at the Coast Guard center in Mandeville, La.

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As alleged, beginning no later than 2011 and continuing until about the time of his retirement in January 2018, Johnson engaged in a scheme to receive bribes from merchant mariners who had applied for Coast Guard-issued licenses. Johnson offered and sold various forms of improper assistance, including reporting false information to the Coast Guard and, more commonly, selling examination questions and answers to mariners before they took the tests.

To conduct the scheme, Johnson, without authorization, removed confidential examination and answer documents from the exam center. To recruit participants, Johnson approached mariners when they appeared at the exam center, called mariners using contact information found in Coast Guard records, and encouraged past participants to refer other mariners to Johnson.

The conspiracy charge, which was included in the previously filed indictment, alleges that Johnson, following his retirement, acted as an intermediary for Coast Guard exam center employee Dorothy Smith in a scheme in which Smith entered false exam scores in exchange for money. Smith pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 23.

The exams at issue were ones that merchant mariners were legally required to pass in order to obtain licenses to serve in various positions on vessels. The examinations tested mariners’ knowledge and training to safely operate under the authority of licenses.

The maximum terms of imprisonment are 15 years for bribery and five years for conspiracy. Each offense is also punishable by a fine of up to $250,000, up to three years of supervised release, and a $100 mandatory special assessment fee.

U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans reiterated that the superseding bill of information is merely a charge and that the defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case is being investigated by the Coast Guard Investigative Service. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chandra Menon is in charge of the prosecution.

– U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District of Louisiana

By Rich Miller