Yokohama fires 29 for fake certificates

By: 
STEVE ROGERS
Staff Writer

State and local authorities could ask federal agencies to get involved in an investigation of who is behind at least 29 counterfeit WorkKeys certifications that cost people their jobs at the Yokohama Rubber plant in Clay County.


Yokohama confirmed the terminations in a statement released Monday evening after an inquiry by WCBI-TV.


Tuesday, District Attorney Scott Colom, reached by phone at a conference, said he is consulting with Clay County Sheriff Eddie Scott about an investigation into not just the 29 people, but also a broader look at where and how the certificates originated.


"It's all in the very early stages right now determining what the issues are and potential crimes and what the company knows and what it wants. It may be something very simple. It may not. Once we get a little further along, we may want to get the U.S. Attorney's office involved because if it warrants it, they may have more resources like wire fraud and mail fraud that could apply," Colom said.


The counterfeit certificates themselves would be little more than a misdemeanor, but printing and distributing them could be a more severe crime, lawyers and investigators said.


Developed by the same company that does the national ACT college entrance exam, WorkKeys measures skills in math, graphic literacy, and reading comprehension.
Yokohama and a growing number of industries in the region use the test, which covers three phases and ranks takers as platinum, gold, silver and bronze with platinum being the best, as a guide to hiring. The companies require at least a silver or higher for applicants.
Yokohama has not said how it uncovered the scam, but the rumors began circulating last week on social media.
Employers can verify certificates online at www.act.org.
Other companies in the area are said to be checking personnel records for potential counterfeit certificates, but those industries could not be confirmed Tuesday.

In the Golden Triangle, East Mississippi Community College is the largest administrator of the tests with the Greater Columbus Learning Center on Military Road in Columbus also offering tests and preparation on a smaller scale. EMCC provides services at several of its locations, including its satellite center on Highway 45 Alternate at TVA Road not far from the Yokohama plant.


Community colleges throughout the state are centers for the testing and related job training.


Rocky Higginbotham, EMCC's director of public relations said he was not aware of any role the college had in an investigation.

The college's Work Force Service division referred calls at Yokohama.
In a statement, Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi (YTMM) said it is actively investigating the situation and has created new measures to prevent it from happening again. 


“People are our most important asset at YTMM,” said Osamu Zushi, YTMM President. “We’re extremely proud of our local workforce and won’t let this unfortunate situation take anything away from the great work they provide.”
YTMM, which produces commercial truck tires, opened in October 2015 and currently has 665 employees, well above the 500 initially projected for the first phase of what could be a four-phase development with more than 1,500 workers.

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