Two Coast Guard credential specialists plead guilty to test fixing

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(NEW ORLEANS) — U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans has announced the guilty pleas of two former U.S. Coast Guard employees in a test score-fixing scheme. Evans also announced additional guilty pleas and sentencings of several other defendants in this matter.

On Feb. 24, Dorothy Smith and Beverly McCrary pleaded guilty before the Judge Barry W. Ashe to conspiracy to defraud the United States. The maximum penalties for each defendant are five years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release, and a $100 mandatory special assessment fee. Sentencing for each defendant is scheduled for April 14.

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Smith and McCrary were employed as credentialing specialists at a Coast Guard exam center in Mandeville, La. Smith’s position authorized her to enter scores for examinations 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 the licenses.

In pleading guilty, Smith admitted that she accepted bribes to fix exam scores. While Smith would at times directly interact with credential applicants (for example, by soliciting bribes from them when they came to the exam center), she primarily relied on intermediaries. By using intermediaries, Smith typically avoided having any contact with the mariners to whom she sold scores.

Mariners participating in the scheme would usually not even appear for the examinations. Smith would create Coast Guard records and data entries to make it appear to the Coast Guard that the mariners had appeared and tested. Smith would make up passing scores for each of the examination’s various modules and enter these false scores in a Coast Guard computer system. Smith would then send emails to a Coast Guard office falsely stating that the mariners had passed the examinations and should receive the desired endorsements.

McCrary pleaded guilty to being one of Smith’s intermediaries in the scheme. McCrary admitted that she acted as an intermediary while employed at the exam center and that she continued participating in the scheme following her 2015 retirement. McCrary would gather money and information about the desired endorsements and then provide the information and a portion of the money to Smith.

McCrary almost always required upfront cash payments, but on occasion would accept non-monetary things of value. For example, from one mariner, McCrary accepted coolers of fresh-caught shrimp in exchange for arranging false test scores. To make it less likely that the scheme would be discovered, McCrary instructed mariners: to not contact the exam center regarding their credential applications; to not work on vessels during the days they were supposed to be testing; and to use code words when discussing the scheme on the telephone.

McCrary recruited some of the mariners while she was on duty at the exam center. For example, when mariners came to the exam center to address matters related to their credential applications, McCrary would strike up conversations with them and proceed to solicit them to engage in the scheme. McCrary also developed her own network of intermediaries beneath her in the scheme. These intermediaries included Alexis Bell, Micheal Wooten and Sharron Robinson, who have all pleaded guilty and collectively admitted to having McCrary arrange false scores for a total of 31 mariners, including themselves.

Smith and McCrary admitted that they engaged in the scheme from before April 2012 until May 2019 and that they caused more than 50 mariners to receive false scores, with some mariners obtaining false scores on multiple occasions. Each falsely reported examination resulted in the issuance of an unearned license, with almost all of the licenses being officer level. Officer-level licenses include the most important positions on vessels, such as master, chief mate and chief engineer.

Earlier this year, Ashe sentenced two mariners who had pleaded guilty to acting as McCrary’s intermediaries: on Jan. 7, Ashe sentenced Wooten to 54 months imprisonment; on Feb. 3, Ashe sentenced Bell to 42 months imprisonment. Wooten and Bell were each also sentenced to one year of supervised release to follow their prison terms.

On Jan. 20, Ashe sentenced two of the mariners who received fraudulent licenses through scores entered by Smith. Fredrick Nettles was sentenced to six months imprisonment to be followed by one year of supervised release and 100 hours of community service. Stinson Payne was sentenced to one year probation and 100 hours of community service.

Seven of the eight defendants charged in a separate indictment pleaded guilty before the Judge Eldon E. Fallon to obtaining unearned endorsements through false scores entered by Smith: Ransford Ackah, Odell Griggs and Devin Hebert pleaded guilty on Jan. 13; Nathaniel Dominick, Raynel Lewis and Maurice Palmer pleaded guilty on Feb. 3; and Adrian Mack pleaded guilty on Feb. 10. The maximum penalties for each defendant are five years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release, and a $100 mandatory special assessment fee.

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 for the Eastern District of Louisiana

By Rich Miller