After 31 people were indicted in connection with a scam to boost test scores at a Mandeville, La., credentialing center in late 2020, the U.S. Coast Guard has been investigating to identify mariners who may hold fraudulently obtained documents and take appropriate action against them.
Cmdr. Martha Mannion, chairwoman of the Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Credentialing Fraud Task Force, said the investigation includes a forensic analysis of suspected mariners’ records.
“Concurrently, we have initiated a full-scale review of the merchant mariner credentialing program to ensure the integrity of our credentialing process,” Mannion said.
Dorothy Smith was a credentialing specialist at the Coast Guard’s Regional Exam Center in Mandeville whose job involved entering scores for safety and training tests that merchant mariners are required to pass to obtain licenses to serve in various positions on vessels. According to a U.S. Attorney’s Office indictment from Nov. 20, Smith took bribes to inflate exam scores, which resulted in applicants illegally obtaining licenses for officer-level positions including master, chief mate and chief engineer.
The indictment states that former Coast Guard employees Eldridge Johnson and Beverly McCrary were intermediaries in the scheme, as were maritime industry workers Alexis Bell, Micheal Wooten, Sharron Robinson and Alonzo Williams. The four maritime workers also allegedly had their own scores fixed by Smith.
The fraud at the exam center occurred over a period of seven years, according to the indictment. If found guilty, each defendant faces a sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
In addition to the charges against Smith and the six alleged co-conspirators, 24 current and former merchant mariners have been charged with unlawfully receiving officer-level licenses. Each of the mariners received false scores from Smith, with some receiving false scores on multiple occasions, according to the indictment.
The investigation by the Merchant Mariner Credentialing Fraud Task Force is being assisted by the National Maritime Center and the Suspension and Revocation National Center of Expertise.
“The Coast Guard is diligently working to identify and investigate any mariners potentially involved in fraud schemes and will pursue appropriate enforcement action against any suspected fraudulent activity,” Mannion said. “The Coast Guard is committed to the safety and security of the Marine Transportation System.”
The Mandeville indictment came one month after another federal indictment in which four men were charged with selling fraudulent Coast Guard credentials from Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy in Norfolk, Va. Given that the documents are intended to demonstrate competence for demanding positions with serious safety ramifications, the magnitude and duration of these fraud schemes have sent shock waves through the industry.
Prospective and current employers can verify credentials with the Coast Guard’s Merchant Mariner Credential Verification tool, which can be found at www.homeport.uscg.mil/missions/merchant-mariners/merchant-mariner-credential-verification.