Woman gets 57 months for impersonating safety official after Gulf oil spill

Story highlights

  • Connie Knight pleaded guilty on four charges in January, was sentenced this week
  • Authorities say she claimed to be an OSHA official teaching cleanup certification classes
  • 950 people, many of Southeast Asian descent, paid cash and got fake certifications
  • "Knight illegally profited from a community already suffering," a prosecutor says
A Louisiana woman has been sentenced to nearly five years in prison for impersonating a federal safety official following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Connie Knight, now 47, offered "fraudulent hazardous waste safety training" after the epic spill, during which oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly three months and caused environmental and economic crises, the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday in a news release.
Knight pleaded guilty in January to three felony charges and one misdemeanor for creating a fake identification document and impersonating a federal official. In New Orleans on Thursday, she was sentenced in a federal court to 57 months in prison and ordered to pay a $25,300 fine.
"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 falsely impersonating a federal official and raising false hopes for employment," Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno said. "For that, she is being held accountable to the fullest extent of the law."
According to the Justice Department, Knight claimed she was a high-ranking official in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration so that she could collect money from people in Louisiana who hoped to work as part of the post-spill cleanup effort.
Many of those she convinced were fishermen of Southeast Asian descent, some of whom did not speak or read English. At the time, the spill had forced the closure of shrimping areas where they'd worked.
She arranged classes that she said satisfied safety requirements needed to be part of hazardous cleanup, asking for cash payment of between $150 to $350. At least 950 people took them, even though -- in reality -- Knight had no links to OSHA or any hazardous safety training.
Knight's classes lasted as little as two hours; in fact, those wishing to properly certified must have at least six days of classroom training and three days of on-site training, the Justice Department notes.
Nonetheless, some people who attended Knight's classes -- and got the "fraudulent certifications" she created -- did end up accessing hazardous waste cleanup sites.