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Woman Imprisoned in Training Scam

Thursday, May 23, 2013

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A Gulf Coast con artist who faked federal credentials to peddle worthless "training" to unemployed immigrants has been sentenced to 57 months in prison.

Connie M. Knight, 47, of Belle Chasse, LA, was sentenced late Thursday (May 16) for the scam, which targeted Gulf fishing communities devastated by the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill, federal authorities announced.

Authorities said Knight sold inadequate hazardous-waste safety training to hundreds of residents who spoke little or no English and promised them lucrative jobs after the accident wiped out their livelihoods.

Gulf cleanup
Photos: oilygulf.wordpress.com

By peddling bogus training to thousands of unemployed people with the promise of jobs, Connie Knight "took advantage of an environmental disaster and the resulting vulnerabilities of an immigrant community," the U.S. Attorney said.

At sentencing, in federal court in New Orleans, Knight was also ordered to pay $25,300 in victim restitution.

Knight was indicted in September and pleaded guilty Jan. 24 to three felony criminal charges and one misdemeanor criminal charge for creating false identification documents and impersonating a federal official.

'A Community Already Suffering'

“On the heels of the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, Knight illegally profited from a community already suffering from the impacts of the oil spill by impersonating a federal official and raising false hopes for employment," said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

"For that, she is being held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. The Department of Justice is committed to environmental justice and will vigorously prosecute those who victimize vulnerable communities.”

U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said Knight "took advantage of an environmental disaster and the resulting vulnerabilities of an immigrant community,"

“Her callous crime focused on her financial gain, ignoring the potential harm to the restoration of the Louisiana coastal region.”

How it Worked

Court documents explained how, 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.

Gulf Cleanup
priceofoil.org

Cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico became a boom industry after the Deepwater Horizon disaster of April 2010. Knight's scam capitalized on that boom.

Knight created and used multiple false federal identifications to bolster her credibility as an OSHA employee and to convince attendees, who were primarily from the Southeast Asian fishing community, that she could ensure them lucrative employment cleaning the spill.

At least 950 victims in eastern Louisiana each paid between $150 and $300 cash to enter a class. After a short presentation in English, Knight would provide false completion certifications and tell attendees to ready their vessels for BP cleanup work, which she claimed would be coming any day.

In reality, authorities said, Knight had no connection to OSHA or to the cleanup effort, and she had no training in hazardous waste safety.

Public Hazards

“The defendant not only defrauded people who were desperate for jobs, but also created a risk that poorly trained workers could expose both themselves and the public to hazardous waste that was improperly handled or cleaned up,” said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

Knight 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. Authorities noted, however, that Knight's sessions last two hours, while legitimate training would require at least six days in a classroom and three days on site.

Some attendees later gained access to hazardous waste cleanup sites based on the fraudulent certifications provided by Knight.

Victims Speak Out

At sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk considered statements from victims who recounted how Knight had targeted the Southeast Asian fishing communities, many of whom did not speak or read English.

Deepwater Horizon oil spill skimmers
oilygulf.wordpress.com

The scheme not only victimized trainees financially, but it exposed them and the public to improper handling and disposal of hazardous waste, authorities said.

Court documents explained that many shrimp grounds were closed from the time of the spill through late 2010, leaving many fishermen without jobs. Knight convinced young bilingual individuals from Southern Louisiana, who believed her to be an OSHA trainer, that she could help their struggling communities.

She then used the binlingual victims to help peddle her training throughout the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian neighborhoods.

“OSHA will not tolerate fraudulent training or unscrupulous activity when workers' health and lives may be at stake,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “Inadequate training jeopardizes the safety and health of workers cleaning up hazardous waste sites.”

Investigation

The 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 OSHA, the FBI, investigators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Plaquemines Parish (LA) Sheriff’s office.

The case was prosecuted by Patrick M. Duggan of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Emily K. Greenfield of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

 

   

Tagged categories: Cleanup; Enforcement; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); hazardous materials; Hazardous waste; Oil and Gas; OSHA

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