For more than seven years, prosecutors say, a Coast Guard employee at a test center in Louisiana accepted bribes to enter falsified test scores, allowing two dozen people to obtain the licenses required for various positions on ships without passing exams.
Last week, that employee Dorothy Smith, an accreditation specialist at the Mandeville, La., Center, and 30 others were charged in connection with the scheme, prosecutors said Monday.
According to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Ms. Smith worked with middlemen to obtain bribes. Two former Coast Guard employees are among six intermediaries that prosecutors say Ms Smith used in the operation. The other four, who were maritime industry workers, had their scores set by Ms Smith in addition to recruiting others.
In return for the bribes, Ms Smith falsely claimed that candidates had obtained passing marks in exams or learning modules, prosecutors said and, in some cases, said candidates had passed. presented for testing when they had not done so.
The exams test “the knowledge and training of seafarers to operate safely under license,” according to a statement from the US prosecutor’s office.
Ms Smith and the six middlemen were each charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. A lawyer representing Ms Smith in the case declined to comment.
The program “resulted in applicants illegally obtaining a range of licenses for officer-level positions, including the most important positions on ships, such as captain, chief executive officer and chief engineer,” the statement said. .
The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.
Twenty-four other people face charges in the case. They were accused of receiving, detaining and intending to illegally use seafarer’s licenses through false scores. Some candidates have had their scores fixed multiple times, prosecutors said.
A plaintiff paid an intermediary $ 3,500 for false scores, according to the indictment. Another paid Ms. Smith $ 1,000 directly, according to prosecutors. They did not say how much Ms Smith and her associates were making in the scheme.
If found guilty, each of the 31 defendants could face up to five years in prison and a fine of $ 250,000, prosecutors said.
The matter is under investigation by the Coast Guard Investigative Service. It is not known how investigators learned of the operation.
The indictment came more than a year after dozens of people were indicted in a cheating scandal unrelated to college admissions. The charges arose out of the Justice Department’s “Varsity Blues” investigation and involved celebrities, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
The investigation found that wealthy parents paid to have their children’s admission scores fixed, sometimes in conjunction with forged resumes and bribes to coaches to admit students as competitive athletes.
Last week, a former Harvard fencing coach was accused of taking $ 1.5 million in bribes to help the sons of a wealthy Maryland businessman gain admission to the ‘school.