(NEW ORLEANS) — The United States Attorney’s Office on Feb. 2 announced the guilty pleas of 16 defendants related to a test score-fixing scheme at a U.S. Coast Guard exam center.
Judge Barry W. Ashe accepted the pleas on Jan. 20, 27, and 28, with each of the following defendants pleading guilty to unlawfully receiving an officer-level mariner license: Jonathan Abbey, Rafael Atkins, Anthony Brown, Charles Franks, Jerry Fudge, David Galvan, Justin Gandy, Cardell Hughes, Edward Jones, Brandon Mack, Hugo Marquez, Miles Marts, Deverick Morrow, Octavian Richards, Antwaine Travis and Robert Winters.
As admitted during their guilty pleas, these defendants obtained licenses by paying for false Coast Guard exam scores. The exams were designed to test their knowledge and training to safely operate under the authority of the licenses.
According to court filings, the fraudulently obtained licenses included, among others, those authorizing mariners to serve as the master of vessels of any tonnage in any waters, to serve as the chief mate of vessels of any tonnage in any waters, and to serve as the first assistant engineer of vessels of any horsepower in any waters.
The master, also known as the captain, is the officer having command of a vessel and is ultimately held responsible for the safety of the crew, vessel, cargo and all aspects of the vessel’s operation. The chief mate of a vessel is the officer in charge of the deck department and is typically is responsible for navigation, keeping watch of the bridge, cargo, stability calculations, being the medical person in charge, and assuming command of the vessel if the master is unable to fulfill his duties. The first assistant engineer of a vessel is typically responsible for the upkeep of machinery, the manning and supervision of the engine room, and keeping watch of the engine room.
As alleged in the indictment, these defendants’ false scores were entered by Coast Guard credentialing specialist Dorothy Smith. The indictment alleges that Smith accepted bribes in exchange for entering passing test scores and used a network of intermediaries to connect her to license applicants. The U.S. Attorney’s Office reiterated that the indictment’s allegation against Smith is merely a charge and her guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Ashe set sentencing dates for April and May. The maximum penalty for each conviction is five years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release, and a $100 special assessment.
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