Four Sentenced to Jail in Fake US Coast Guard Credentialing Scheme
Four individuals involved in a scheme to sell phony U.S. Coast Guard merchant mariner credentials have been sentenced to jail terms ranging from 18 to 45 months on charges ranging from mail and wire fraud to aggravated identity theft. Reportedly, more than 252 mariners purchased fraudulent qualifications from the mastermind of the scheme who worked as the Chief Administrator at the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy (MAMA) in Norfolk, Virginia.
“The defendant and his co-conspirators devised a dangerous fraud scheme that enriched themselves at the expense of public safety,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “By selling counterfeit merchant mariner certificates in exchange for cash payments, the defendant and others permitted untrained and unqualified mariners to perform jobs onboard merchant vessels they were not entitled to hold.”
According to court documents, from July 2016 to December 2019, Lamont Godfrey, age 43, of Virginia Beach, who was employed at MAMA, conspired with the three other defendants to create counterfeit certificates for over 100 U.S. Coast Guard-approved deck and engineering courses offer at the private maritime training center and sell their bogus certificates to merchant mariners for a profit. The individuals purchasing the certificates had not taken the classes. They received the fake certificates along with instructions on how to load them in the Coast Guard systems and be credited with a fraudulent Coast Guard qualification needed to hold various positions on merchant vessels.
The three other individuals in the case were each charged as acting as brokers to find mariners willing to buy the fake certificates. According to the prosecutors, Godfrey personally received approximately $249,000 from the production of these counterfeit MAMA certificates and shared an additional $145,000 with the three co-defendants.
“By enabling a group of mariners to circumvent the Coast Guard’s credentialing protocols through fraud, this individual and his accomplices undermined our credentialing system and threatened our waterways,” said John Mauger, Rear Admiral and Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy for the U.S. Coast Guard. “Today’s sentencing demonstrates 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.”
Godfrey was sentenced to 45 months in prison. The other three individuals, Eugene Johnson, age 46, of Manteca, California; Shunmanique Willis, age 44, of Richmond, Texas; and Alonzo Williams, age 46, of Pineville, Louisiana, had previously been sentenced for their roles in the conspiracy. Willis received the shortest sentence of 18 months in prison, William received 27 months in prison, and Johnson was sentenced to 29 months in prison.
The Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy, which was not included in the charges, reported that it was a victim and fired Godfrey when it learned of the counterfeiting scheme. They cooperated with the prosecutors. After the scheme was uncovered in October 20020, MAMA was also working with the U.S. Coast Guard to identify illegitimate certificates so that those individuals would be removed from their jobs. So far, there have been no reports of charges against any of the recipients of the fake certificates.