3 Plead Guilty to Manufacturing Fake IDs in Charlottesville
Fake ID ring operated out of this Rugby Road home
Three people who ran a fake ID ring out of a Charlottesville home pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court. They admitted to manufacturing 25,000 fake IDs - netting more than $3 million.
Thirty-one-year-old Alan Jones, 31-year-old Kelly McPhee and 26-year-old Mark Bernardo accepted a plea agreement to one count of conspiracy to commit document fraud and another count of aggravated identity theft. The maximum penalty for each defendant is 17 years.
In court, U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy described a highly sophisticated business of making fake IDs, complete with holograms and other features that separate authentic IDs from fake ones, that mushroomed by word of mouth among college students.
"This case started with Alan Jones. He was the mastermind and leader of this enterprise and started very simply by him creating fake IDs for himself," Heaphy said.
Heaphy says Jones then began to grow the business, called Novel Design, out of the second floor of the Rugby Road home starting in 2010.
"He was able to get real identifications, copy them and then use that template, that scanned image, to create stock. Eventually he was able to make 17 separate state driver's licenses," Heaphy said.
McPhee was Jones' girlfriend and later helped process the IDs. Bernardo was the last to get involved and helped design a website for the business.
The ring was initially discovered when police in South Carolina discovered five fake IDs that were lost by a student.
Prosecutors say they have not yet linked any of the IDs to persons affiliated with terrorists but they are still searching and hope to have that search completed by the date of the sentencing hearing on December 16.
Department of Justice Press Release
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA – The three Charlottesville residents accused of producing tens of thousands of fraudulent driver's licenses and shipping them across the country pled guilty this morning in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Charlottesville.
Alan McNeil Jones, 31, Kelly Erin McPhee, 31, and Mark Guerin Bernardo, 27, all of Charlottesville, Va., waived their rights to be indicted and pled guilty this morning to a two-count Information. The three defendants each pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit identification document fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
"These three defendants developed a sophisticated scheme to produce and sell high-quality false identification documents throughout the nation," United States Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy said today.
"Their criminal enterprise was tremendously lucrative, generating profits of more than $3 million over several years. By producing and distributing these fraudulent identification documents, Mr. Jones and his co-conspirators endangered national security. Law enforcement personnel involved in this case will take every available step to recover these counterfeit driver's licenses and ensure that they cannot be used to facilitate additional criminal activity."
"The defendants in this case primarily used the U.S. Mail to facilitate their criminal scheme. Postal Inspectors were able to quickly identify the scheme and worked aggressively with our partnering law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Attorney's Office to locate the subjects involved and ultimately dismantle their criminal enterprise. Through cases like these, the Postal Inspection Service upholds it's long standing mission of protecting the public and preventing criminal misuse of the U.S. Mail," said Keith A. Fixel, Inspector in Charge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service - Charlotte Division.
"Regardless of the reasons for seeking fraudulent documents, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) strives to detect, deter and disrupt individuals and organizations that present an active threat to national security or public safety, and who seek to undermine the integrity of the laws and regulations of the United States," said Scot Rittenberg, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Washington. D.C. Field Office.
Today in District Court, Jones, McPhee and Bernardo admitted to conspiring to created high-quality fraudulent driver's licenses out of the home they shared on Rugby Road in Charlottesville, Va. The conspiracy, which began in 2010 and operated under the name Novel Design, produced and sold more than 25,000 fraudulent driver's licenses, primarily to college students, throughout the nation.
As part of the scheme, Jones paid commissions to students at the University of Virginia, and elsewhere, to refer his service to other students interested in obtaining fraudulent driver's licenses. He also outsourced some of the manufacturing work to companies in Bangladesh and China.
During the entire period of time in which Novel Design was in operation, Jones, McPhee and Bernardo produced approximately 25,000 fraudulent driver's licenses for customers. They charged anywhere from $75 to $125 per fake license and the three obtained more than $3 million from customers.
To date, over $2.7 million in assets have been seized by law enforcement. At the height of the conspiracy, Jones, McPhee and Bernardo, were able to create fraudulent driver's licenses for the states of Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
At sentencing, each defendant faces a maximum possible penalty of up to 15 years in federal prison on the conspiracy charge and a mandatory additional two-year sentence on the aggravated identify theft charge.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Department of Homeland Security Investigations, the United States Postal Inspection Service and the Virginia State Police. United States Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy and Assistant United States Attorney Ronald Huber are prosecuting the case for the United States.
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