Two Former USCG Employees Plead Guilty in Leading Test-Fixing Scheme
Two former employees of the U.S. Coast Guard who led a scheme to fix scores on licensing exams plead guilty in U.S. federal court and are facing jail time when they are sentenced at the end of April. The scheme went on for at least seven years caused more than 50 mariners to receive false scores used to receive often officer-level licenses from the U.S. Coast Guard.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana indicted 31 individuals in November 2020 in connection with the test score-fixing scheme. According to the indictment, employees at the Coast Guard exam center in Mandeville, Louisiana were taking payments from applicants to enter false test scores. Mariners taking part in the scheme would usually not appear for the examinations and instead, the leader of the scheme, Dorothy 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. She then notified the Coast Guard that the mariners had passed the examinations and should receive the desired endorsements.
Dorothy Smith was a civilian employee working as a credentialing specialist at the Coast Guard exam center. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States. In pleading guilty, Smith admitted that she accepted bribes to fix exam scores. Occasionally she would interact directly with the applicants, soliciting bribes when they came to the exam center, but primarily she relied on intermediaries who solicited the mariners and paid Smith to enter the false scores.
Another employee at the exam center, Beverly McCrary worked with Smith and was one of the intermediaries. The scheme is known to date back at least to April 2012, and after her retirement in 2015, McCrary continued to participate in soliciting mariners. McCrary also pleaded guilty last week admitting her role in the elaborate scheme.
According to court papers, in addition to taking cash bribes, McCrary accepted other forms of remuneration, including in at least one case accepting coolers of fresh-caught shrimp. McCrary counseled the participants on how to act advising them not to work on vessels on testing days, not contacting the testing center, and using code words when communicating with her. She started soliciting participants while working at the center and also developed her own network of intermediaries that sought out other mariners taking bribes to fix the exams.
The maximum penalties that Smith and McCrary each face includes five years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release. Sentencing for each defendant is scheduled for April 14, 2022.
Separate intermediaries in the scheme continue to also plead guilty. Three of the intermediaries admitted to having McCrary arrange false scores for 31 mariners, including themselves. In some cases, mariners obtained false scores on multiple occasions and according to prosecutors almost all of the licenses were officer-level, including master, chief mate, and chief engineer.
In January 2022, two of McCrary’s intermediaries who had previously pleaded guilty were sentenced. Michael Wooten was sentenced to 54 months imprisonment while Alexis Bell was sentenced to 42 months imprisonment. Both were also each sentenced to one year of supervised release to follow their prison terms. Two of the mariners who received fraudulent licenses through scores entered by Smith received sentences ranging between six months and a year imprisonment plus either supervised release or community service. Seven of the eight defendants charged in a separate indictment also pleaded guilty in January and February 2022. The maximum penalties for each of those defendants include five years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release. The case is being investigated by the Coast Guard Investigative Service.