UPDATED: Details emerge following fake ID ring raid

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The house at 920 Rugby Road, where federal investigators say three Charlottesville residents were manufacturing fake IDs. Photo: Graelyn Brashear. The house at 920 Rugby Road, where federal investigators say three Charlottesville residents were manufacturing fake IDs. Photo: Graelyn Brashear.

This is an updated version of a story that ran last Wednesday, shortly after the three Charlottesville residents arrested earlier in the week for manufacturing fake IDs appeared in court for the first time.

Secret surveillance at the Charlottesville post office. Swapped license plates. Luxury cars paid for in cash. A stockpile of money and assault rifles in a house in a tony neighborhood near Grounds.

Kelly Erin McPhee
Kelly Erin McPhee

These are just a few of the details coming out of the months-long investigation of an alleged fraud ring traced to Charlottesville, which ended last Monday night in the massive raid of a house at 920 Rugby Rd. by federal agents in SWAT gear, where Kelly Erin McPhee, 31, and Mark G. Bernardo, 26, were arrested.

A third man, Alan McNeil Jones, 31, fled in a white Range Rover and was tracked down and arrested the next day by Charlottesville police, who surrounded him outside Harris Teeter in the Barracks Road Shopping Center. All are now in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail awaiting bond hearings May 16. They each face multiple fraud counts, accused of running a covert business that sold thousands of “high quality fraudulent driver’s licenses,” and, if convicted, could be in jail for decades. More charges are expected, said U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy.

The raid and arrests shocked neighbors in the upscale block of Rugby, who said they knew little about the occupants of the $3.1 million spec home that allegedly housed the fake ID factory. One homeowner, who didn’t want to be named, said she thought the renters had moved in a year or so ago, after the newly built house failed to sell. She occasionally spotted a young man and woman who lived there, she said, “but they were never sociable.”

Jane McDonald, who lives across the street, noticed them, too. “I thought they looked awfully young to be renting that place,” she said. “I figured, new young high-tech millionaire—and I guess it was. It just wasn’t legal high tech.”

The complaints reveal little about the suspects, but McPhee is a familiar face in Charlottesville.

She alone appeared to have supporters looking on when the trio appeared one at a time, shackled and in jail jumpsuits, before U.S. Magistrate Judge B. Waugh Crigler in federal court on May 8.

Her parents and several friends sat behind a tear-streaked McPhee, joined by Charlottes-ville defense attorney Andrew Sneathern, who said he’ll be representing her.

A former employee of social media software developer Cloudbrain, McPhee helped organize a social group in 2008 called “The Club” that alerted its 20- and 30-something members of weekly drink specials via Facebook and text and gathered regularly at local bars. But she dropped off the scene two or three years ago, said Charlottesville resident Kim Blick, once a Club regular.

“I hadn’t seen her in years,” said Blick. “I’d assumed she’d moved away.”

That is, until Blick spotted her about two weeks ago getting coffee at Paradox Pastry Downtown. They exchanged pleasantries, she said, and then McPhee left.

“She got into this huge white Range Rover,” Blick said. “I was like, huh. That’s a $90,000 car.”

Alan Jones, a.k.a. Joshua Tucker, one of three people arrested in an alleged fake ID ring police believe was being run out of a Rugby Road house. Photo: United State Attorney's Office.
Alan Jones, a.k.a. Joshua Tucker, one of three people arrested in an alleged fake ID ring police believe was being run out of a Rugby Road house. Photo: United States Attorney’s Office.

The feds think they know how the three made their money. Complaints filed against them May 6 in federal court in the Western District of Virginia include nearly identical eight-page affidavits that tell the story of a months-long investigation.

Late last year, South Carolina police caught several College of Charleston students with fake driver’s licenses, according to the affidavits. The students admitted to buying the IDs through a company called “Novel Designs,” which advertised through word of mouth on college campuses. Customers would mail payment to a Charlottesville post office box, and a week later, their fakes would arrive in the mail from a company called “ND & Associates” with a box in Richmond.

The Richmond box didn’t exist—the senders printed the fake return address on labels with free post office software, the affidavits claim—but the Charlottesville box was very real. In January, Homeland Security set up a covert surveillance camera at the post office on Route 29, where they saw a man checking the box almost daily before leaving in a white Range Rover, often accompanied by a woman.

On January 23, agents followed the Range Rover to 920 Rugby Rd. That’s when investigators expanded surveillance, the affidavits say. They often observed two other cards in the driveway of the large stucco house: a red Jeep and a black Cadillac.

It was the Jeep that led investigators to their first name. Its tags were traced to a 2005 Dodge Ram registered in Alabama to an Alan McNeil Jones. When agents tracked down the landlords of the Rugby house, they learned it was rented to a man who called himself Joshua Tucker, who matched a photo of Jones. He paid the rent in cash, the owners told agents, spoke of buying a $60,000 car in cash, and used various aliases. On a recent visit, they had noticed a fortified room full of boxes and latex gloves, and a safe.

Next, the affidavits say, came the sting. Agents e-mailed Novel Designs and got back “very specific” instructions on how to buy a fake. On Monday, May 6, they got the e-mail that triggered the dramatic raid: Their ID was ready.

Agents in SWAT gear swarmed the house at about 10:30pm, and arrested McPhee and Bernardo. Inside, they found a 5’x3’x3′ safe, documents relating to the manufacture of the fake IDs, $200,000 in cash, and guns, “including high power assault rifles.” In a statement detailed in the court records, Bernardo told agents he knew Jones as “Carter,” and had been paid in cash starting last December to edit the photos for the IDs. McPhee, he said, helped make the fakes, and had been doing just that when police raided the house.

Mark G. Bernardo
Mark G. Bernardo

The Cadillac turned out to be Bernardo’s, bought by his brother-in-law Bai Wu in Pennsylvania, he told agents. Bernardo admitted to arranging the straw purchase, paying Wu $50,000 in cash—proceeds from the IDs—to buy and finance the car for him.

Nothing in the complaint indicates the trio were selling their wares in Charlottesville, but at least one local resident said the purchase process sounded very familiar, and his story indicates someone might have been manufacturing fakes here for years. The former PVCC student, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he bought a Virginia driver’s license through the mail in 2004, before the Commonwealth adopted more high-tech IDs.

He said he has no idea if the same people arrested last week made his ID, but the buy went down exactly as investigators described in the affidavits. He sent $300 to a post office box in Charlottesville, and a week later, got a package from a Richmond address.

Pricey, but worth it, he said. “The quality was awesome.”

 

Here’s the original story, which was posted Wednesday, May 8:

Secret surveillance at the Charlottesville Post Office. Swapped license plates. A stockpile of cash and assault rifles in a house in a tony neighborhood near Grounds.

These are just a few of the details coming out of the more than year-long investigation of an alleged fraud ring traced to Charlottesville, which ended Monday night in the massive raid of a house at 920 Rugby Road by federal agents dressed in SWAT gear.

Arrested during that raid were Kelly Erin McPhee, 31, and Mark G. Bernardo, 26. A third man, Alan McNeil Jones, 31, fled in a Range Rover and was tracked down and arrested Tuesday evening. All now face multiple counts of fraud, accused of running a covert business that sold thousands of “high quality fraudulent driver’s licenses.”

Complaints against all three suspects were filed May 6 in federal court in the Western District of Virginia, and the nearly identical eight-page affidavits included in each tell the story of the investigation and raid in vivid detail. Here are the facts according to those affidavits:

Late last year, police in Charleston, South Carolina caught several College of Charleston students with fake driver’s licenses, who admitted to buying the IDs through a company called “Novel Designs.” News of the fake ID factory spread through word of mouth, the students told law enforcement, and the purchases went like this: Mail payment—it’s unclear how much per ID—to a P.O. box under the name “Com Services” in Charlottesville, and a week later, you’d get your fake in the mail, sent from a company called “ND & Associates” with a P.O. box in Richmond.

Investigators soon discovered the Richmond box didn’t exist, and the people behind ND & Associates were using free U.S. Postal Service shipping software to print labels with the fake return address, stick them on flat-rate packages, and mail them to college campuses around the country.

The Charlottesville P.O. box, though, was very real. On January 11, Homeland Security set up a covert surveillance camera at the Charlottesville Main Post Office on Route 29, where they saw a man checking the “Com Services” P.O. box almost daily, leaving the post office, and getting into a white Range Rover, often accompanied by a woman.

On January 23, agents followed the Range Rover to 920 Rugby Road. The surveillance effort expanded, and a camera was set up to monitor the house. Two other cars were observed parking in the driveway of the large stucco house, located on a block of Rugby dotted with large, pricey homes: a red Jeep and a black Cadillac.

It was the Jeep that led investigators to their first name. Its tags were traced to a 2005 Dodge Ram registered in Alabama to an Alan McNeil Jones. When agents tracked down the landlords of the Rugby house, they learned it was rented to a man who called himself Joshua Tucker, who matched a photo of Jones. He paid the rent in cash, the owners said, and used aliases. On a recent visit, they had noticed a fortified room full of boxes and latex gloves, and a safe.

Next came the sting. On April 28, agents e-mailed ND & Associates, asking how to buy a fake ID, and the response included “very specific” instructions, right down to which class of mail and which add-on services to use. The agents sent payment, and on Monday, May 6, they got the e-mail that triggered the dramatic raid: Their ID was ready.

Agents in SWAT gear swarmed the house at about 10:30pm, and arrested McPhee and Bernardo. Inside, they found a 5’-by-3’-by-3’ safe, documents relating to the manufacture of the fake IDs, $200,000 in cash, and guns, “including high power assault rifles.” In a statement, Bernardo told agents he knew Jones as “Carter,” and had been paid in cash starting last December to edit the photos for the IDs. McPhee, he said, helped make the fakes, and had been doing just that when police raided the house.

The Cadillac turned out to be Bernardo’s, bought by his brother-in-law Bai Wu in Pennsylvania, he told agents. Bernardo admitted to arranging the straw purchase, paying Wu $50,000 in cash—proceeds from the IDs—to buy and finance the car for him.

Jones fled in the Range Rover, and was apprehended Tuesday evening by cops who found his car parked at the Barrack’s Road Shopping Center and surrounded him outside Harris Teeter.

Which brings us to today, when all three of the alleged criminals, dressed in jumpsuits and cuffed, were brought before a federal judge. Each is charged with multiple fraud counts, and each faces hundreds of thousands in fines and decades in jail.

They were remanded, and will be in court again May 16 for preliminary and bond hearings.

  • Angel Eyes

    Boy oh boy, am I ever glad that our boys in blue (or desert camo) were on task and nipped this foul criminality in the bud. People printing phony drivers licenses so 19 year kids can buy beer are a clear threat to public order and we can see now why every jerkwater town really, really, needs all that tactical gear, body armor, fully automatic weapons, and armored cars. Why those people could have been Bin Laden after all. talk about a Keystone Cop farce….

    • alice

      @ Angel Eyes – Yes, that is true. And likely the majority outcome. A bigger perspective could be that those could be used for voter fraud, buying of weapons, or illegal trade.

      • Dirtkicker

        No they couldn’t. Try buying a gun with a fake ID, it’ll never make it through. These ID’s are just a thin veil only good enough to really buy alcohol, buy cigarettes, and maybe get into a bar. The first time that they’re run through a computer, its game over.

  • NotToBeTakenLightly

    The intent of these people might have been to kindly enable college kids to indulge in a few social drinks, or to enable them to attend nigh-clubs, but the fact is that this was greed, and ultimately, their activity is the type of thing that enables dangerous criminals (like the Boston bombers) to maneuver the legal system that is there to protect us. I hope that they do not get a lenient sentence, just because they are white. Let this be an example!! Give them the full force of the law.

  • Kelly
    • daffyduck

      She’ll be lookin’ good in her Federal Prisoner uniform for the next 20-40 years. Free room and board. Her parents must be so proud. Just imagine the huge dent in their life savings after paying their daughter’s legal fees. Just like the Huguely’s.

      • lovinggunmaker

        20-40 years? Please. Every ID they sold is a potential defendant that they can flip on for a more lenient sentence. I had a fake ID made when I was a teenager, and that’s exactly how I got caught; the guy who made it got busted and flipped faster than a McDonald’s hamburger. Sounds like they’ve sold a huge number of these. All those kids better get used to having their driver’s license suspended…

  • DTinsider

    He did tell everyone his name was Carter. And does anybody remember when Kelly McPhee ran the C-Ville Drinking Club?

  • dejavu

    Is the C’ville weekly hiring proof readers, or is the repetition for a rhythmical poetic purpose?

    • Graelyn_Brashear

      We posted an updated version of a story that originally ran May 8 here, but the italicized note that explains that could be easy to miss. The update (which is what ran in print this week) had enough new info that it warranted a new story, but included enough previous reporting that I felt the original should be available, too. Confusing? Totally. We’ll do it differently next time.

  • Damn

    so that’s why my ID never came…

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