SEPTEMBER 26, 2012 — In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, many fisheries were closed, causing many fishermen in the Gulf region to seek other sources of employment, including as oil spill clean-up personnel. All clean-up personnel were required to receive hazardous waste safety training before working in contaminated areas due to dangers from the oil itself and clean-up materials.
Today, a 22-count federal indictment was unsealed in federal court in New Orleans charging Connie M. Knight, 46, with impersonating a federal employee for the purpose of enticing people to pay her for fraudulent hazardous waste safety training, announced Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division and Jim Letten, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
The indictment also charges Knight with possessing false federal identification documents, creating false federal identification documents and transferring false federal identification documents to her employees.
Knight, previously of Belle Chasse, La., was arrested by federal agents earlier today in Wiggins, Miss., where she currently resides. She was scheduled to appear in federal court in New Orleans at 2:00 p.m. today.
The indictment states that Knight impersonated an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) "Master Level V Inspector and Instructor" by utilizing false OSHA credentials, a false OSHA email address, and various other means. Knight thereby enticed individuals to pay for fraudulent hazardous waste safety and awareness training under the pretense that they would get work helping to clean the Gulf.
According to the indictment, from August to December of 2010, it is estimated that Knight defrauded more than 1,000 individuals throughout the Eastern District of Louisiana.
The indictment alleges that Knight created and used fraudulent OSHA credentials, along with numerous false diplomas and certifications, to convince individuals that she was an authorized trainer and that they would be able to procure lucrative cleanup work if they attended and paid for her hazardous waste training courses. Knight targeted members of the Southeast Asian communities in Southern Louisiana, many of whom neither read nor spoke English proficiently.
According to the indictment, in October of 2010, while impersonating an OSHA employee, Knight created false federal OSHA identification badges for others as well. Knight is charged with creating those additional false OSHA identification badges, as well as providing them to four residents of Southern Louisiana fishing communities whom she had hired as employees. The indictment states that Knight knew she had no authority to produce or transfer the false OSHA identification badges.
The charges of producing and transferring fraudulent federal identification documents each carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The charge of possessing a fraudulent federal identification document carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a fine of $5,000. The 19 counts of falsely impersonating a federal employee each carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
The Department of Justice notes that allegations in the indictment are mere accusations and all persons are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
This case is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, with assistance from OSHA, the FBI, and investigators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's office.
The case is being prosecuted by Patrick M. Duggan of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division and Emily Greenfield of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.