28 NOV 2020
Four individuals have been charged in a scheme to sell phony US Coast Guard merchant mariner credentials, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. The grand jury indictment alleges that the scheme netted over $200,000 in profits from the production and sale of the counterfeit certificates to over 150 mariners.
Beginning in July 2016 and continuing through at least the end of 2019, it is alleged that the four individuals devised a scheme to defraud and to obtain money falsely by “creating counterfeit course certificates from the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy (MAMA) and selling them directly to individual mariners seeking various merchant mariner seafarer qualifications.” The certificates were submitted to the US Coast Guard and shipping lines as proof of completion of required training.
According to the indictment, Lamont Godfrey used his position as chief administrator at the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy to create fake MAMA course certificates for mariners who had never taken the MAMA courses, in exchange for payments ranging between several hundred dollars at the low end and several thousand at the high end for each counterfeit course certificate. The mariners would receive the fake certificates along with instructions on how to load them in the US Coast Guard systems and be credited with a fraudulent Coast Guard qualification.
Three additional individuals, Eugene Johnson, of Norfolk, Shunmanique Willis, of Texas, and Alonzo Williams, of Louisiana, were also indicted as co-conspirators working in conjunction with Godfrey as brokers selling and promoting the scheme. Each of the three allegedly worked to find mariners willing to buy the fake certificates. In exchange for their efforts, Johnson, Willis, and Williams all received a portion of the profits from the scheme.
The Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy, which was not included in the charges, reports that it is a victim in the scheme and that it has fired Godfrey. The school began operations in 2007 after acquiring the assets of the Tidewater School of Navigation. The school offers over 100 US Coast Guard approved deck and engineering courses.
“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 Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy said in a written statement. “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.”
Godfrey, Johnson, Willis, and Williams were charged with 20 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The individuals were arraigned on the charges and Godfrey is reported free on bail pending his next hearing in early November. If convicted, they face a mandatory minimum of two years in prison.
The Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy reports that it is cooperating fully with the prosecutors and the US 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, we are working with all involved to improve the certification processes.”