NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, January 27, 2013 (ENS) – A Louisiana woman admitted creating false identification documents and impersonating a federal hazwaste official with intent to defraud Southeast Asian fishermen thrown out of work by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
In federal court in New Orleans Thursday, Connie M. Knight, 46, previously of Belle Chasse, Louisiana, pled guilty to three felony criminal charges and one misdemeanor criminal charge.
She impersonated a high-ranking hazardous waste safety instructor and inspector with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA.
Her motive was to collect money for “training seminars” from residents of Southeast Asian fishing communities in southern Louisiana who hoped to be hired as one of the thousands of cleanup workers handling the oily mess.
From the time of the spill through the end of 2010, many fisheries were closed and Gulf fishermen were seeking other means of employment.
Knight held fake OSHA training seminars and assured attendees that they would receive lucrative employment working on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill cleanup once they paid for and completed her course. Knight did not, however, actually have any connection to the cleanup effort.
Knight required each attendee to pay between $150 and $400 cash to enter a class.
She claimed her classes satisfied the various safety requirements that all individuals had to complete in order to be employed at a Deepwater Horizon hazardous waste cleanup site.
Knight’s classes lasted as little as two hours, said federal attorneys, whilelegitimate certifications would take at least six days of classroom training and three days of on-site training.
The plea agreement describes Knight’s methods. She created a false federal identification badge declaring that she was with OSHA, as an “OSHA Master Level V Instructor and Inspector.”
In reality, OSHA has no such designation.
Knight also fabricated false federal identification badges for her employees, who believed that they were working for OSHA.
The employees were residents of Southeast Asian fishing communities in Southern Louisiana, and provided Knight a way to access those communities.
Though many who attended her classes were Vietnamese, Laotian or Cambodian, Knight spoke only English at the classes, and all materials were in English.
Still, at least some attendees later gained access to hazardous waste cleanup sites based on the fraudulent certifications created by Knight.
Knight Faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for producing fraudulent federal identification documents.
Possessing a fraudulent federal identification document carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a fine of $100,000.
The two counts of falsely impersonating a federal employee each carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General and the U.S. EPA Criminal Investigation Division, with assistance from OSHA, the FBI, investigators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and from the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office.
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