The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Louisiana has announced two more guilty pleas in a test score-fixing scheme at a U.S. Coast Guard exam center, bringing the total number of convictions in the case to 21.
Two other apparent ring leaders in the scheme are yet to stand trial.
The Justice Department on Monday announced the most recent guilty pleas of two middlemen, former mariners Alexis Bell and Michael Wooten. Both have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, admitting to acting as an intermediary between co-defendant Beverly McCrary and merchant mariners who were willing to pay for false passing exams scores.
McCrary is accused of participating in the scheme while she was employed by the Coast Guard exam center and continuing after her retirement.
Both Bell and Wooten acknowledged that they would take money from mariners and then pay McCrary for the false scores with the understanding that McCrary would keep a portion of that money and use the rest to bribe another exam center employee to enter the scores. In court, Bell admitted to assisting eleven other mariners in obtaining false scores in addition to having his own scores fixed on three occasions. Wooten admitted that he assisted nine other mariners in obtaining false scores and also had his own scores fixed.
The false scores resulted in the Coast Guard issuing unearned licenses without the required exams being passed. The exams tested mariners’ knowledge and training to safely operate under the authority of licenses, which were legally required to work various positions on vessels.
As alleged in the indictment, which was filed on November 20, 2020, Coast Guard credentialing specialist Dorothy Smith entered the false scores in the scheme over a period of seven years. The indictment alleges that Smith accepted bribes and used a network of intermediaries, which included McCrary, Bell, Wooten and others. In total, the indictment charged 31 individuals, including three former Coast Guard employees including Smith and McCrary. Both are now scheduled to stand trial on June 28, 2021.
Bell’s sentencing date has been scheduled for July 8, 2021, while Wooten’s is scheduled for July 22, 2021. The maximum penalty for each defendant is five years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, three years of supervised release, and a $100 special assessment.
Of the 31 initially charged, 24 were either current or former merchant mariners charged with unlawfully receiving officer-level licenses. Sixteen previously pleaded guilty in January for unlawfully obtaining and possessing endorsements through their participation in the scheme.
On April 15, the Honorable Barry W. Ashe also sentenced the first three defendants to plead guilty in this case (identified as Anthony Brown, David Galvan and Cardell Hughes). Each of the three had pleaded guilty to illegally obtaining a mariner license and received a sentence of one year of probation, along with 100 hours of community service.
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