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Four Charged in $200K Phony Mariner Credentialing Scheme

Mike Schuler
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October 26, 2020

File Photo: Alex Staroseltsev / Shutterstock

Prosecutors in Virginia have charged four men for their respective roles in a conspiracy to sell phony Coast Guard merchant mariner credentials in Norfolk as part of a scheme that allegedly netted them more than $200,000, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced Monday.

Lamont Godfrey, 42, of Portsmouth, Eugene Johnson, 45, of Norfolk, Shunmanique Willis, 43, of Texas, and Alonzo Williams, 45, of Louisiana, are facing charges including conspiracy and mail and wire fraud for allegedly acting in concert to create counterfeit certificates from the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy (MAMA) and sell them to merchant mariners for a profit, according to an unsealed indictment. Godfrey worked for MAMA as the school’s Chief Administrator, according to the Dept. of Justice.

In a statement to gCaptain (included below), the school said they were shocked to learn of the scheme and were the victim in this case. Godfrey has since been fired by the school.

According to the indictment, Godfrey used his position to create fake MAMA course certificates for mariners who had never taken the courses in exchange for thousands of dollars in payments. In total, the scheme netted over $200,000 in profits from the production and sale of the certificates to over 150 mariners, the indictment alleges.

Located in Norfolk, Virginia, MAMA is a private maritime training center offering mariners over 100 U.S. Coast Guard approved deck and engineering courses.

“The mariners would receive 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,” a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Eastern District of Virginia said. “Johnson, Willis, and Williams worked with Godfrey as brokers to find additional mariners willing to buy the fake certificates. In exchange for their efforts, Johnson, Willis, and Williams all received a cut of the illicit proceeds from the scheme.”

Statement from Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy:

Mr. Godfrey, an employee (admin assistant) was terminated when we were made aware of the charges and have been working side by side as partners with the authorities on the matter of fake certificates. 

We were absolutely shocked by the revelation that we are the victims of a criminal act from an employee who had stolen from us for their own financial gain.      

The fraud perpetrated and circulating these certificates is incredibly troubling. The mariners who purchased these fake certificates from Mr. Godfrey and Co. did not go through the state of art training that Mid-Atlantic is known for delivering.   Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy is a victim of Mr. Godfrey and his co-defendants actions.. 

We are working closely with the Coast Guard to identify illegitimate certificates and most importantly and immediately to identify the mariners who got these fake certificates to get them off our waterways.  The established processes are all currently under review and, as noted above, we are working with all involved to improve the certification processes.

The four men are charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. If convicted, they face a mandatory minimum of two years in prison.

 

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