March 5, 2014
A fourth person charged in connection to a massive fake ID ring based out of a Charlottesville home pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court.
Michael DelRio pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit identification fraud for the role he played in the company Novel Design.
"His role in the conspiracy was to create a Web-based portal through which customers could enter their own information," U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy said.
DelRio, a 19-year-old community college student from Edison, N.J., was hired for $15,000 to create the Novel Design website. The company, run by Alan McNeil Jones and co-conspirators Mark Bernardo and Kelly McPhee, was operated out of a home on Rugby Road.
The three were sentenced in December for their role in the ring, which produced more than 25,000 fake IDs for college students across the country, bringing in more than $2.5 million.
The three found DelRio on an online forum under the name Copernicus Lionheart.
"He sent some templates of it that didn't really work well, so it never actually was deployed," Heaphy said. "But that was his limited role in the conspiracy."
When the three main operators were arrested in May, they worked with investigators to find DelRio. His first time in Charlottesville was for his arraignment last year.
DelRio's attorney, Lloyd Snook, has not returned a request for comment. DelRio, who is not being detained, is due back in court for formal sentencing in June. He faces a maximum sentence of 15 years and a $250,000 fine, though with his plea deal, he will likely face significantly less.
As the case begins coming to a close, authorities are releasing more details about the investigation. It began when authorities kept tabs on a post office box at the Charlottesville Post Office on Route 29, where the company picked up its cash payments.
Investigators would follow the person picking up the money from the post office and through town, which would often lead them to a home on Rugby Road -- the headquarters of Novel Design.
"There's no question that the scope of this uncovered a network that law enforcement is now aware of," Heaphy said.
The company only issued fake IDs to customers with a university email address, but prosecutors say it's more serious because they can be used for more serious offenses.
"With an identification document, you can get a driver's license, you can apply for public benefits, you can travel," Heaphy said. "The ability to generate these fake documents allows the commission of other more nefarious kinds of crime."
Therefore, while the U.S. attorney's office has decided not to pursue federal charges on the recipients of the fake IDs, they are notifying them through letters and asking for the IDs to be destroyed.
"We felt some kind of responsibility to try to do what we can to get those documents off the street," Heaphy said.
Not only will the customers receive letters, but their respective schools and colleges, as well. The University of Virginia is among the schools nationwide that will receive the letters.
A spokesman said UVa has no comment on this matter.
"They're not federal targets, but there may be consequences for them through that notification process," Heaphy said.