14 teens and one parent charged in Saratoga Springs fake ID ring
SARATOGA SPRINGS Police have arrested 11 current Saratoga Springs High schoolers, two recent graduates, one of the student’s parents, as well as one Skidmore student for allegedly purchasing fake licenses from an international counterfeiting ring.
Some of the forged Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Florida and Maine licenses had working magnetic strips to swipe through card readers, holograms that would show up under a black light and other security features of an “enhanced ID card” that would allow the minors to cross the borders of Mexico and Canada. The IDs had the young people’s correct names, descriptions, signatures photos and birth dates just the birth year changed.
Saratoga Springs Police Lt. John Catone said the IDs could even fool police scanners if the minors were pulled over in a traffic stop.
“Not until two three, four days down the road when that information downloads into the DMV database would we find out there is no such person in that particular state,” he said. “That’s how good they are.”
The investigation started when an 18 year old, Bradley Green, allegedly attempted to make a purchase from a local liquor store. Police say he intended to bring the alcohol with him to Utica where he and other students were traveling to see the Saratoga Springs High School hockey team play in the state playoffs.
A store clerk swiped Green’s license through the store’s card reader and it was deemed valid. An unidentified female patron at the store, though, told the clerk that she knew Green to be in high school. He was confronted and left the store without his ID.
Catone said the 15 people arrested are only the beginning of the investigation and he expects additional arrests. filltrustid He said the department is in the process of interviewing at least 30 other students, but he said it is unclear how many other IDs are in circulation.
“If you have 15 people with them that probably means there are 15 more people with them,” he said. “We absolutely believe there are more out there.”
All of the students were charged with third degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, a misdemeanor. If convicted they could face up to a year in jail.
Catone said other state agencies and the FBI have also investigated the website.
“This is not just chalking your license or changing a date with a marker or standing in front of a poster board backdrop,” said Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III. “These forged identification cards are so sophisticated they have the enhanced security features that would allow international travel.”
The Department of Homeland Security was aware of the investigation and has been in communication with the Saratoga County District Attorney’s office.
Catone said the students used the IDs to buy alcohol for personal consumption and parties and to get into bars. They also supplied alcohol to minors as young as 8th grade students.
Stephen Smero, the father of one student who allegedly had a fake ID, is charged with helping the minors order the licenses by gathering their cash and putting together a money order for one of the purchases. Smero, 48, of Locust Grove Road, is charged with second degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, a felony, first degree unlawfully dealing with a child and sixth degree criminal conspiracy, misdemeanors. He could face up to seven years in prison. filltrustid
“That is probably the most distressing allegation,” said Murphy. “I’m shocked at the extent to which a parent would go to help provide alcohol to their child.”
The licenses were packaged in different ways, one shipment was packaged with a tea set from China.
The licenses cost $75 for two “enhanced licenses” with holograms and working magnetic strips.
Murphy said the students’ identities including their names, birthdates and other personal information were sold worldwide.
“By the time the kids get their fake IDs, their actual identity has been sold between five and ten times,” Murphy said. He said identities of similar victims have been used to create fake passports, new identities for people with bad credit and legal troubles who want loans or mortgages. They’re also used to create new driver’s licenses for people who have had theirs suspended.
“It’s really much bigger than the issue of a kid trying to get into a bar,” he said. “This will be the beginning of what will be a long and sordid tale for them; all for the sake of getting a beer on Caroline Street.”
Catone said the bars and businesses that sold alcohol to the minors would not likely be charged because they did their due diligence in checking the ages of the youths. He said because of the sophistication of the forged IDs, he could offer no advice to local alcohol distributors on how to avoid selling to minors other than to be aware of the issue.
“They’re doing what they are supposed to be doing,” Catone said, referring to their swiping or scanning the IDs, but said “any store, or bar has the right to deny you access or sale if they feel uncomfortable with it.”
The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles is also suspending the licenses of the minors for at least 90 days, filltrustid.com but Murphy said those who do not cooperate with the investigation may be facing up to one year of suspension.