Two Former Coast Guard Employees Sentenced to Jail in Test-Fixing Case
Two former U.S. Coast Guard employees who were the leaders in a long-running scheme to falsify licensing testing at the USCG New Orleans Regional Exam Center were sentenced to jail on October 27. One additional former USCG employee remains to be sentenced in December for her role in the bribery scheme while four individuals that worked as intermediaries along with 32 mariners were charged with, and pleaded guilty to, the felony offense of unlawful receipt of a mariner license.
Dorothy Smith pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Defraud the United States, admitting that she had accepted bribes to fix exam scores in a scheme that began prior to April 2012 and continued for at least 10 years. Smith, age 67, was sentenced to five years imprisonment.
Eldridge Johnson, age 70, who had also worked at the center was sentenced on two different counts. For bribery, he was sentenced to six years imprisonment and five years for Conspiracy to Defraud the United States with the sentences to be served consecutively. After completing their prison terms, both defendants will be placed on supervised release for an additional three years.
Smith was a credentialing specialist and Johnson was an examination administrator. Mariners participating in the scheme would usually not appear for the examinations. Smith would create Coast Guard records and data entries to make it appear that the mariners had appeared and tested. Smith would make up passing scores and enter them in a Coast Guard computer system while sending emails to the Coast Guard 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 soliciting bribes from them when they came to the exam center, she primarily relied on intermediaries, including Beverly McCrary, another former Coast Guard employee. McCrary also pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on December 8, 2022. She 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’s bribery conviction relates to his conduct as an examination administrator beginning no later than 2011 and continuing till his retirement in 2018. Johnson pleaded guilty to receiving bribes from mariners who had applied for licenses and also 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 also 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 his having acted as an intermediary for Smith after his retirement. Johnson continued to recruit 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 him to participate in the fraud.
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.