Two Former Coast Guard Employees Sentenced in Test-Fixing Case

Published 6:26 am Friday, October 28, 2022

NEW ORLEANS – U.S. Attorney Duane A. Evans announced that former United States Coast Guard employees DOROTHY SMITH and ELDRIDGE JOHNSON were sentenced today for engaging in a bribery scheme at a U.S. Coast Guard exam center.

United States District Court Judge Barry W. Ashe sentenced SMITH, age 67, to five years imprisonment for the crime of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States and a $100 mandatory special assessment fee.  Judge Ashe sentenced JOHNSON, age 70, to concurrent sentences of six years imprisonment for Bribery and five years for Conspiracy to Defraud the United States and a $200 mandatory special assessment fee.  After completing their prison terms, the defendants will be placed on supervised release for three years.

The defendants had been employed at a Mandeville, Louisiana Coast Guard exam center known as Regional Exam Center (REC) New Orleans, which administered 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. SMITH was a credentialing specialist and JOHNSON was an examination administrator.

As admitted during her plea of guilty to Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, SMITH accepted bribes to fix exam scores in a scheme that began prior to April 2012. Mariners participating in SMITH’S scheme would usually not 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 and enter them 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 licenses. 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 passing scores.

One of Smith’s intermediaries was former Coast Guard employee Beverly McCrary, who pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Ashe on December 8, 2022. McCrary had her own network of intermediaries, which included mariners Alexis Bell, Micheal Wooten, and Sharron Robinson, who each pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Defraud the United States and who collectively admitted to having obtained false scores for a total of 31 mariners, including themselves. Earlier this year, Bell was sentenced to 42 months imprisonment and Wooten and Robinson were each sentenced to 54 months imprisonment. In December 2021, another intermediary in the scheme, Alonzo Williams, received a 40-month sentence for Conspiracy to Defraud the United States.

JOHNSON pleaded guilty to two crimes—one count of Bribery and one count of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States. The Bribery conviction relates to JOHNSON’S conduct as an examination administrator at REC New Orleans. Beginning no later than 2011 and continuing until around the time of his January 2018 retirement, JOHNSON engaged in a scheme to receive bribes from mariners who had applied for 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. JOHNSON recruited mariners by approaching them when they appeared at REC New Orleans and by calling their telephone contact numbers listed in United States Coast Guard records.

JOHNSON’S conspiracy conviction relates to him having acted as an intermediary for SMITH after his Coast Guard retirement. JOHNSON recruited mariners to engage in SMITH’S scheme in various ways, including by soliciting mariners who had bribed him when he was a Coast Guard employee and by encouraging those mariners to refer others to JOHNSON.

In addition to the three former Coast Guard employees and the four intermediaries mentioned above, 32 mariners were charged with, and pleaded guilty to, the felony offense of unlawful receipt of a mariner license. Some of these defendants were charged in the case presided over by Judge Ashe while others were charged in a separate case assigned to United States District Court Judge Eldon E. Fallon, who sentenced the last of these defendants, Derrick Ward, to probation and community service in August 2022.

The wide range of fraudulently obtained licenses included the Master Unlimited Oceans endorsement, which authorizes the holder to serve as the captain of vessels of any tonnage in any waters, as well as licenses for other high-level positions such as Chief Mate and Chief Engineer.

“These former Coast Guard exam center employees risked public safety for personal gain,” said U.S. Attorney Evans. “Today’s sentencings hold them accountable for their egregious breaches of trust.”

“Credentialed mariners are entrusted with the safety and security of commercial vessels, and the vast majority are dedicated, safety-conscious individuals who work hard to earn their professional credentials and endorsements.  By enabling a group of mariners to circumvent the Coast Guard’s credentialing protocols through fraud, these individuals undermined our credentialing system and threatened our waterways,” said Rear Admiral Wayne R. Arguin, Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy. “These sentences demonstrate the tireless efforts of the Coast Guard and Department of Justice, and ensures the United States’ Marine Transportation System remains one of the safest in the world. We are confident this ruling sends a strong message that the U.S. government will not tolerate these types of acts and will vigorously take action against such misconduct.”

U.S. Attorney Evans commended the work of the Coast Guard Investigative Service Gulf Region. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chandra Menon is in charge of the prosecution.