ATHENS, GA. -- Just a couple of students apparently masterminded a counterfeiting ring that spread hundreds of fake IDs on two area college campuses.
They provided door-to-door service, using couriers to take photos of customers in their dorms and get down personal information for the fake IDs, then delivered the finished product at prices that ranged from $50 to $100.
That’s the picture that emerges from a flurry of search warrants that were filed last week in Clarke County Superior Court.
In the warrants, University of Georgia police asked permission to search more than a dozen email accounts of buyers and sellers of fake IDs, and to look into bank records and safe deposit boxes of two students who allegedly manufactured the IDs.
One of the students attends UGA; the other goes to Gainesville State College, and both are roommates at a posh, gated student community on Athens’ Eastside.
The UGA student also has a room at a local fraternity, which police searched during the ongoing investigation.
UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson won’t discuss the case until arrests are made, possibly in early January, he said Friday.
He didn’t want to “compromise the integrity” of the investigation by speaking about it, he said.
Williamson previously stated that the fraudulent driver’s licenses were high quality and that approximately 1,600 had been made and sold.
The 20 search warrants filed in court Tuesday and Wednesday reveal the following:
The fake ID ring came to light Aug. 15, when a troubled student approached a resident assistant about a “conflict” between her and her roommate.
“I don’t have anyone else to talk to and the situation is bad,” the student told the RA.
The student explained the tension arose from her roommate’s involvement with the fake ID ring in which the roommate acted as a “middle person” between the manufacturers and buyers.
She complained her roommate repeatedly asked if she wanted to buy a fake ID and said she had gone with her on deliveries.
The RA notified police the next day, and an officer took the student’s written statement. The student also showed the officer where her roommate picked up the fake IDs — at a home in The Summit of Athens, a subdivision of student cottages and condominiums off Barnett Shoals Road.
A month later, the student gave police the names of a couple students who had bought fake IDs from her roommate. Those students then confirmed the illegal transactions.
The fake ID buyers told police how a woman came to their dorm rooms at Creswell Hall and told them she could get fake IDs. The woman used her cellphone to take their photos, then sent the pictures and text with personal information to be placed on the fake IDs to the manufacturer. The woman later delivered the fraudulent driver’s licenses to the students and took $75 as payment for each fake ID.
By mid-September, the investigation focused on at least one middle person, a UGA student who admitted she took photographs and collected personal information for fake IDs, sent them to the manufacturer, then distributed the finished product and collected the money.
The woman identified the fake ID maker as a Gainesville State College student who lived at The Summit of Athens. She told police she saw the computer, printer and other equipment the man used to make fraudulent Florida and South Carolina driver’s licenses.
On Sept. 22, police searched the home at The Summit and seized the GSC student’s computers, a printer, computer and camera memory storage devices, 200 blank ID cards, sheets of license hologram laminate for Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and New Jersey driver’s licenses, and an iPhone.
Police then got court orders allowing them to search the computer equipment and iPhone to find out who the GSC student was communicating with about the fraudulent IDs.
Investigators found text messages that mentioned the names of 17 people who needed to pick up fake IDs, then cross-referenced those names with school directories and confirmed that five customers were UGA students and four were GSC students.
While looking through the student’s cellphone, police also found the email address of a University of Georgia student who they suspected was involved in manufacturing fake IDs.
After searching the UGA student’s Yahoo email account and reviewing records, a UGA investigator concluded that “it became evident that (the UGA student) was instrumental in the making and distributing of fraudulent identifications and had been since at least August of 2011.”
The search warrant was only for emails the student had sent and received between Aug. 1 and Sept. 28, as well as for any recently deleted emails.
That UGA student was roommates at The Summit of Athens with the GSC student police suspected of making IDs, and he also was a member of Lambda Chi with a room at the fraternity’s house on South Milledge Avenue, which police searched Oct. 14.
Several members of the fraternity were aware their frat brother was involved in making fake IDs, and at least one member received a fake ID, according to a search warrant.
Police also obtained warrants to search the bank accounts or safe deposit boxes of both the UGA and GSC students, which may be subject to seizure under asset forfeiture laws.
In early November, the UGA police chief confirmed his department was investigating “a fairly large ring” that involved at least two false ID manufacturers and an unknown number of distributors.
Police also identified many customers, and offered amnesty on misdemeanor charges of possession of fraudulent ID to students who turned in fake IDs.
Williamson said Nov. 3 that more than 300 fake IDs had been surrendered and he expected police would received hundreds more.