Oil spillA Mississippi woman has been indicted for impersonating an OSHA employee in order to conduct fraudulent hazardous waste safety training during the Gulf oil spill clean-up.

A 22-count federal indictment unsealed yesterday in federal court in New Orleans charged Connie M. Knight, 46, with impersonating a federal employee for the purpose of enticing people to pay her for fraudulent hazardous waste safety training. 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 was arrested by federal agents yesterday in Wiggins, Miss. 

According to the indictment, Knight impersonated an OSHA “Master Level V Inspector and Instructor” by utilizing false OSHA credentials and a false OSHA email address.  

Knight preyed upon Gulf region fishermen, many of whom were forced to seek other sources of employment after the spill. She convinced them 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 speak English proficiently.

All cleanup personnel were required to receive (legitimate) hazardous waste safety training before working in contaminated areas due to dangers from the oil itself and cleanup materials.  

Knight defrauded an estimated 1,000 people between August and December of 2010.

Knight’s operation was so extensive that she hired employees – and created false federal OSHA identification badges for them as well. 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.

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.