CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A New Jersey man, and the fourth member of a Charlottesville-based fake identification ring, pleaded guilty Wednesday, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations.
Michael A. DelRio, aka Copernicus Lionheart, 19, of Edison, N.J., pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit identification document fraud. DelRio faces a maximum possible penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Alan McNeil Jones, Kelly Erin McPhee and Mark Gil Bernardo previously all pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit identification fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft for their roles in the conspiracy. Jones, McPhee and Bernardo admitted to creating high-quality, fraudulent driver's licenses out of the home they shared on Rugby Road in Charlottesville.
"Counterfeit identity documents, like the ones produced by this ring, can be used by criminals, enabling them to mask their identities and operate with ease in the United States," said Scot Rittenberg, acting special agent in charge of HSI Washington. "HSI is committed to stopping this threat that undermines our nation's security."
"Mr. DelRio played a significant role in perpetuating a high-tech and sophisticated scheme to produce and sell high-quality false identification documents all across the nation," U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy said. "He worked to develop a web-based interface for potential customers that, if deployed, would have made the criminal enterprise even more lucrative than it was. Because false identification documents present very real threat to our security, we will continue to prioritize cases like that against Mr. DelRio and his co-conspirators."
The conspiracy, which began in 2010 and operated under the name Novel Design, produced and sold more than 25,000 fraudulent driver's licenses, primarily to college students nationwide. Jones paid commissions to students at the University of Virginia, and elsewhere, to refer his service to other students interested in obtaining fraudulent driver's licenses. He also outsourced some of the manufacturing work to companies in Bangladesh and China.
Jones and Bernardo recruited DelRio to streamline the website for their fraudulent identification business. Jones paid DelRio $15,000 to build a website that would allow customers to input biographical information directly onto the site, which would then be printed on the fraudulent identification document each customer had ordered. Allowing customers to enter information via a secure, offshore website would have saved the conspirators the time it previously took to input that information by hand. Both Jones and Bernardo indicated that DelRio had been informed of the nature and use of the program he was being asked to produce.