CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Three Charlottesville residents who sold fake IDs to thousands of college students across the country pleaded guilty to federal charges Wednesday.
Kelly Erin McPhee and Alan McNeil Jones, both 31, and Mark G. Bernardo, 27, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit identification document fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. They face a maximum of 17 years in prison. Sentencing is set for Dec. 16 in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville.
The three admitted running a sophisticated and lucrative fake ID enterprise out of a home they leased in an upscale neighborhood near the University of Virginia. The scheme began in 2010 and operated under the name Novel Design, producing and selling more than 25,000 phony driver’s licenses for $75 to $125 apiece. The enterprise raked in more than $3 million.
Jones paid commissions to students at U.Va. and elsewhere who referred classmates to Novel Design. The company also outsourced some of the manufacturing work to firms in Bangladesh and China.
U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy suggested the operation could have had consequences beyond allowing students to buy alcohol illegally.
“By producing and distributing these fraudulent identification documents, Mr. Jones and his co-conspirators endangered national security,” he said. “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 scheme came to light last year when authorities found fake IDs possessed by several students at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. According to court papers, investigators conducted an undercover buy of fake IDs along with video surveillance of the house and the local post office where the business maintained a box. A search of the home turned up about $200,000 cash in a safe, along with several firearms.