Additional Guilty Plea and Jail Time in USCG Test-Fixing Scheme
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana reported that another one of the leaders in the long-running U.S. Coast Guard test-fixing case has pleaded quality while additional seafarers that took advantage of the false test results have been sentenced. The scheme which dates back possibly a decade or more centered around employees at the U.S. Coast Guard exam center in Mandeville, Louisiana soliciting and taking bribes to falsify results for seafarers taking various licensing exams at the center.
The scheme was uncovered in 2020 with the U.S. Attorney’s office announcing the initial indictment of 31 individuals, including three employees of the center and 28 mariners. A further indictment was announced in 2021 for eight additional mariners who were also charged with paying the bribes to fix their test scores and in many cases the individuals never sat for the exams.
The latest person to plead guilty is a third, now retired, former U.S. Coast Guard employee Eldridge Johnson. He pleaded guilty on June 23, 2022, to one count of bribery and to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, with his sentencing scheduled for September 29. The maximum term of imprisonment for bribery is fifteen years and five years for conspiracy. In addition, each offense is also punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and up to three years of supervised release.
Johnson was an examination administrator at the Mandeville, Louisiana Coast Guard exam center overseeing the process for mariner’s licensing exams. Beginning no later than 2011 and continuing until about the time of his January 2018 retirement, Johnson engaged in a scheme to receive bribes from mariners who had applied for licenses. He 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’s conspiracy conviction relates to his post-retirement conduct, in which he acted as an intermediary for another exam center employee, Dorothy Smith in a scheme in which Smith entered false exam scores in exchange for money. Smith and another former Coast Guard employee, Beverly McCrary, who acted as an intermediary, pleaded guilty earlier this year and are now scheduled to be sentenced on September 15, 2022.
The court also recently sentenced two of the original 28 mariners indicted for participating in the scheme or for acting as recruiters to draw others into the scheme. Shunmanique Willis, who pleaded guilty to obtaining a license through false scores entered by Smith, was sentenced in April to six months imprisonment to be followed by one year of supervised release and 100 hours of community service. Another mariner, Sharron Robinson, pleaded guilty to being an intermediary in Smith’s scheme, as well as conspiring to obtain false scores for herself and nine other mariners. She was sentenced last week to 54 months imprisonment to be followed by one year of supervised release.
Seven of the mariners from the second indictment were sentenced between April and June 2022 with each of them receiving probation. The eighth defendant, in that case, pleaded guilty on March 4, 2022, and is scheduled to be sentenced on August 4, 2022. The maximum penalty is five years’ imprisonment, up to a $250,000 fine, and up to three years of supervised release.