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More than 30 charged in scheme to fix Coast Guard test scores

A US Coast Guard ship.
A US Coast Guard ship.TED ALJIBE/Photographer: TED ALJIBE/AFP via

For more than seven years, prosecutors say, a Coast Guard employee at a test center in Louisiana took bribes to enter falsified test scores, allowing two dozen people to obtain licenses required for various positions on vessels without passing the exams.

Last week, that employee, Dorothy Smith, a credentialing specialist at the center in Mandeville, Louisiana, and 30 other people were indicted in the scheme, prosecutors said Monday.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Smith worked with intermediaries to secure bribes. Two former Coast Guard employees are among the six intermediaries whom prosecutors said Smith used as part of the operation. The other four, who were workers in the maritime industry, had their scores fixed by Smith in addition to recruiting others.

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In exchange for the bribes, Smith falsely reported that the applicants had earned passing scores on exams or learning modules, prosecutors said, and in some cases reported that the applicants had appeared for the tests when they had not.

The exams test “mariners’ knowledge and training to safely operate under the authority of licenses,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Smith and the six intermediaries were each charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. A lawyer representing Smith in the case declined to comment.

The scheme “resulted in the applicants illegally obtaining a range of licenses for officer-level positions, including the most important positions on vessels, such as master, chief mate, and chief engineer,” the statement said.

The Coast Guard did not immediately respond Tuesday night to a request for comment.

Twenty-four other people face charges in the case. They were charged with receiving, possessing and intending to unlawfully use mariner licenses by way of the false scores. Some applicants had their scores fixed on multiple occasions, prosecutors said.

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One applicant paid an intermediary $3,500 for fake scores, according to the indictment. Another paid Smith $1,000 directly, prosecutors said. They did not say how much Smith and her associates made in the scheme.

If convicted, each of the 31 defendants could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, prosecutors said.

The case is being investigated by the Coast Guard Investigative Service. It was unclear how investigators became aware of the operation.

The indictment came more than a year after dozens of people were charged in an unrelated widespread college admissions cheating scandal. Those charges resulted from the Justice Department’s “Varsity Blues” investigation and involved celebrities including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

The investigation revealed that wealthy parents had paid to have their children’s admissions scores fixed, sometimes in conjunction with falsified résumés and bribes to coaches to admit students as competitive athletes.

Last week, a former fencing coach at Harvard was accused of taking $1.5 million in bribes to assist a wealthy Maryland businessman’s sons in being admitted to the school.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.