Retired USCG Employee Faces Added Charges of Bribery for Test-Fixing

US Coast Guard employee charged with receiving bribes in testing scandal

Published Apr 5, 2022 5:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

A former employee of the U.S. Coast Guard has been charged with bribery during his time working at USCG National Maritime Center in Louisiana as part of the ongoing investigation into a test-fixing scandal at the same location. The new charges were added last week to a prior indictment against Eldridge Johnson alleging that he was soliciting bribes from merchant mariners for at least seven years before he retired. He then served as an intermediary connecting mariners to the test-fixing scheme being run by two other employees at the Coast Guard Center.

Eldridge Johnson on his profile on LinkedIn lists himself as a “legal instruments advisor” working at the Maritime Center in Denham Springs, Louisiana starting in March 2010. As alleged in additional charges, 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.

According to the information filed with the court, 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. The exams at issue were legally required merchant mariner tests required to obtain licenses to serve in various positions on vessels.

To conduct the scheme, they charge that Johnson also, 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.

Prosecutors reported that the new charges of bribery carry with them a maximum of 15 years imprisonment in addition to five years for conspiracy. Each offense is also punishable by a fine of up to $250,000, and up to three years of supervised release.

Johnson was previously charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States in an indictment that pertained to his conduct after he retired from the Coast Guard. The conspiracy charge alleges that Johnson, following his retirement in 2018, acted as an intermediary in a scheme that solicited payments from mariners to fix or make up test results of the licensing exams.

They allege that Johnson would recruit mariners to participate in the scheme and they paid another Coast Guard employee, Dorothy Smith, to enter false exam scores for mariners who often never appeared to take the tests. Dorothy Smith was a civilian employee working as a credentialing specialist at the Coast Guard exam center and last month she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States. She is scheduled to be sentenced on June 23, 2022. 

The scheme went on for at least seven years and provided more than 50 mariners with false scores used to receive licenses from the U.S. Coast Guard. In some cases, mariners obtained false scores on multiple occasions and according to prosecutors almost all the licenses were officer-level, including master, chief mate, and chief engineer.

The investigation into the case is ongoing by the Coast Guard Investigative Service. In addition to the leaders of the scheme, more than 30 mariners have already pleaded guilty to charges related to committing fraud and receiving false test scores.