Connie M. Knight, 46, previously of Belle Chasse, La., pleaded guilty in federal court in New Orleans today to three felony criminal charges and one misdemeanor criminal charge for creating false identification documents an impersonating a federal official, announced Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
According to the plea agreement, in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Knight impersonated a high-ranking Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hazardous waste safety instructor and inspector in order to collect money from individuals who hoped to work on the cleanup effort that followed the spill. The plea agreement describes Knight’s methods, which included creating a false federal identification badge declaring that she was an “OSHA Master Level V Instructor and Inspector.” In reality, OSHA has no such designation. Knight also created 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.
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.
Court documents also describe the training seminars themselves. 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 were to complete in order to be employed at a Deepwater Horizon hazardous waste cleanup site. Knight’s classes lasted as little as two hours, while the legitimate certifications would take at least six days of classroom training and three days of on-site training. Though many of her attendees were Vietnamese, Laotian or Cambodian, Knight spoke only English at the classes, and all materials were in English. At least some attendees later gained access to hazardous waste cleanup sites based on the fraudulent certifications created by Knight.
Producing fraudulent federal identification documents carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. 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. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, with assistance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the FBI, and investigators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Plaquemines Parish, La., 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.