December 16, 2013
Seven months after local, state and federal authorities busted a fake ID ring in a Charlottesville home, the three people behind the operation learned their fate in federal court on Monday.
"This is not something benign like college students drinking," U.S. attorney Tim Heaphy said. "This is really serious."
Alan McNeil Jones is the mastermind of the operation, and he received five years in prison. His girlfriend, Kelly McPhee, received 25 months in jail, and his tech guru, Mark Bernardo, got a sentence of 40 months.
"From the very beginning, we believed that the introduction of false identification documents into the stream of commerce was extremely dangerous," Heaphy said.
In a press conference following the sentencing hearing, Heaphy explained why Jones began the extensive, high-quality operation.
"He was the leader and in some ways for him. It was a reflection of a philosophy," Heaphy said. "Mr. Jones really believed very strongly in privacy, in keeping things from the government, and that's what initially sparked his interest in fake IDs."
Over a period of about two-and-a-half years, the operation raked in at least $2.5 million. It involved some 25,000 fake IDs to people in college in 17 states.
In court, Judge Norman Moon reprimanded the trio.
"It's not for me, nor for the defendants, to decide what the ABC laws are," he said.
All three, though, were applauded for helping authorities after their arrest.
"Some of the consequences become a little more clear when you see them all laid out in a concise form like this," said Dean Lhospital, McPhee's attorney. "When you see them in a federal indictment, things definitely take a different spin."
The idea started at the University of Virginia when Jones created a fake ID for a student on the Corner. Then, the operation grew by word of mouth, spanning coast to coast.
However, things fell apart when a student at the College of Charleston lost her and her friends' IDs. When police found the cards and noticed the false information, the students cooperated and led authorities to the operation out of the Rugby Road home.
"We believe just from reviewing the customer list and the .edu addresses that it was nationwide," Heaphy said. "It was coast to coast. And the volume really increased toward the end."
And with that, Heaphy said there's fear that other people will try to fill the void left behind by the trio, who operated under the business name Novel Design.
"Since there's so much money in this, I think people will try to find ways to make these documents," Heaphy said. "We're going to try our best to prevent them from doing that. I think Mr. Jones and his codefendants have helped that by the information they provided."
The thousands of people who received the fake IDs may not be off the hook. Heaphy said in the coming days and weeks, his office is going to send notices to all of those people to inform them of the case and the outcome. He said his office is not going to seek federal charges against customers.
However, Heaphy said his office is also going to supply a list to at least 100 colleges and universities across the country of their students who did purchase an ID.
"Notifying the colleges and universities means there could be some action taken against them by local law enforcement or college disciplinary processes where they're enrolled," Heaphy said.
Prior to the formal sentencing, Judge Moon gave each defendant a chance to speak. Jones, who was sentenced first, declined.
McPhee said she's not proud of what she was doing, but now she feeels "liberated from all my dishonest behavior." She said her seven months in prison has made her a stronger person and that she looks forward to making a positive difference when she's released.
"Prison isn't exactly a place where you learn any life skills, but it is somewhere where you tend to reflect on the decisions you made," Lhospital said. "She's already done that, and I think in the time she has left to serve, she'll come out of this in a productive manner."
Bernardo apologized to his family -- his mother and two sisters were in the courtroom -- and says he looks forward to his release.
"I want to do good with my life," he told the court. "This experience has definitely given me a lot of perspective."
All three have the opportunity to be released earlier if they exhibit good behavior. They all have credit for time they already served.