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Four charged in fake merchant mariner credential conspiracy

Written by Nick Blenkey
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The U.S. Department of Justice reports that four individuals have been charged for their roles in a conspiracy to sell phony U.S. Coast Guard merchant mariner credentials in Norfolk, Va.

According to allegations in an unsealed indictment, Lamont Godfrey, 42, of Portsmouth, Va., Eugene Johnson, 45, of Norfolk, Va., Shunmanique Willis, 43, of Texas, and Alonzo Williams, 45, of Louisiana, acted in concert to create counterfeit certificates from the Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy (MAMA) and sell them to merchant mariners for a profit.

The MAMA is a private state-of-the-art maritime training center, offering mariners over 100 U.S. Coast Guard approved deck and engineering courses needed for merchant mariners to hold various positions on merchant vessels. Godfrey worked for the MAMA as the school’s chief administrator.

According to the indictment, says the Department of Justice, Godfrey used this position to create fake MAMA course certificates for mariners who had never taken the MAMA courses, in exchange for thousands of dollars in payments. The mariners would receive the fake certificates along with instructions on how to load them in the Coast Guard systems and be credited with a fraudulent Coast Guard qualification. Johnson, Willis, and Williams worked with Godfrey as brokers to find additional mariners willing to buy the fake certificates. In exchange for their efforts, Johnson, Willis, and Williams all received a cut of the illicit proceeds from the scheme. In total, the conspiracy netted over $200,000 in profits from the production of these counterfeit MAMA certificates and involved over 150 mariners purchasing fraudulent qualifications.

Godfrey, Johnson, Willis, and Williams are charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. If convicted, they face a mandatory minimum of two years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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