US Justice Department nets 16 guilty pleas in Merchant Mariner fraud case

A screenshot of the official indictment document for USA v Smith et al
A screenshot of the official indictment document for USA v Smith et al (Screenshot by Michael McGrady/Maritime Direct).

Federal prosecutors are securing success in Coast Guard merchant marine examination fraud case.

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By Michael McGrady, Maritime Direct Americas Correspondent

Sixteen merchant mariners have pleaded guilty over the last several weeks before a federal criminal court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, reports trade media and

According to the US Department of Justice, these sixteen mariners admitted that they paid for fraudulent career certifications in a vast test-fixing scheme out of an exam center in Mandeville, La.

Over half of the defendants (the sixteen) named in November 2020 indictment, which named 31 in total, admitted to investigators that they unlawfully received officer-level mariner licenses.

“As admitted during their guilty pleas, these defendants obtained licenses by paying for false Coast Guard exam scores,” says a press release from the Department of Justice. “The exams were designed to test their knowledge and training to safely operate under the authority of the licenses.”

A US Coast Guard employee and credentialing officer, Dorothy Smith, is at the center of the fraudulent credentialing scheme. 

US Attorney Peter Strasser argues that Smith, who has pleaded not guilty in the case, coordinated this alleged scheme to defraud the federal government from 2012 to 2019.

The initial indictment filed with the local federal district court claims that Smith reported passing grades to the Coast Guard, certify merchant mariners with career endorsements that are ultimately falsified. 

The federal mariner code mandates that would-be mariners must pass and maintain these credentials to serve as officers aboard commercial vessels. 

Applicants paid up to $3,500 for falsified credentials, alleges the indictment. Prosecutors also allege that Smith worked with six intermediaries to recruit mariners for the scheme. 

These intermediaries include current and former Coast Guard employees, like individuals Alexis Bell, Micheal Wooten, Sharron Robinson, and Alonzo Williams. These people, who were central to the scheme, are not a part of the sixteen who pleaded guilty. 

Smith, and those named in the November indictment, are accused of federal felony offenses.

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