Photo Credit: David Schick
William Trosclair says he and Tyler Ruby played video games while they waited for Trosclair's little brother on the evening of Sept. 22, 2011.
Bang. Bang. Bang. The pounding at the front door made Trosclair’s stomach drop, but he brushed it off as his little brother playing a prank.
Bang. Bang. Bang. “Police search warrant; open up!”
Trosclair says he and Ruby locked eyes and at that moment, they both knew it: “We’re done. We’re screwed.”
The battering ram burst through the door. Police in full riot gear charged in with guns, detained Trosclair and Ruby and moved them into the front yard as they searched through the posh Barnett Shoals apartment.
Trosclair and Ruby ran what University of Georgia Police Chief Jimmy Williamson called the largest fake ID ring he’s ever seen on a college campus. What follows is Trosclair's account of how he got into the fake ID business—and how he got caught. Ruby declined to be interviewed.
As a UGA freshman, Trosclair walked into a liquor store one night in the fall of 2009 to buy alcohol with a fake ID. The liquor store employee confiscated the card. But it didn’t matter. With some of his Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers Trosclair continued downtown, where he knew people who would let him into bars. Hours later, he was caught and charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol.
When Trosclair started his community service at the East Athens Community Center, he thought it was a joke. No supervision, no mandatory labor, just a sign-in sheet and a place to socialize. It was here that he met and became friends with Ruby, a Gainesville State student who, according to police, became the other half of the ID ring.
The two friends were hanging out at Ruby’s apartment after their community service time had ended when a few young students came over. According to Trosclair, Ruby led them from the living room to his bedroom to conduct some business. Trosclair saw their pictures within an ID template on a computer. At the time, he thought they were pretty nice fake IDs.
“I didn’t know I wanted to do fake IDs then. I didn’t really know I was ever going to get involved with that,” Trosclair recalls, “But I wanted something that was going to get me into bars and have no problems with getting arrested or anything like that.”
Trosclair says he asked Ruby what he’d have to do to get his hands on one and that Ruby told him, “Give me 10 people, and you’ll get a free one.” The seed was planted, but it would be another year before the ID ring took root.
Contrary to news reports that mentioned Trosclair’s supposedly wealthy upbringing, he says he did not get any financial help from his parents for school. When the economy took a dive in 2008, his family was hit hard, and he paid for his schooling through a combination of the federal Pell Grant program and student loans.
Trosclair says that in the fall of 2010, he returned to school as a cash-strapped sophomore and took Ruby up on his offer. He found 10 people to buy fake IDs, but the cost had gone down since the previous year, and he mistakenly charged $20 more than the actual price, pocketing the overcharge. In the amount of time it took to place a few phone calls, Trosclair had suddenly made $200.
“At the time, I didn’t really sense it as a right and wrong issue,” he says, admitting his youthful lack of maturity. When he told his dad that he'd made $200 selling fake IDs, his dad replied, “Son, that might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Ruby was “always wanting to get out of the business,” Trosclair says, but the underage drinking crowd had them on their radar. They wanted to buy booze and get into bars. They knew Trosclair and Ruby held the illegitimate keys.
“We both still saw the demand for it,” Trosclair says, “And [Ruby] was like, ‘Well, do you want to go in with me and split a printer and split the cost?’”
After receiving his school loan, Trosclair was still almost $3,000 short of his fraternity dues, meal plan and other college costs. He needed a steady stream of income, but finding the time for a part-time job that paid enough to cover his expenses while taking classes five days a week was a struggle many students can relate to.
“I had like just enough money for the fake ID investment in my bank account,” Trosclair says. He and Ruby bought a Fargo card printer together and, “The first week, I made that money back. It was a $1,500 investment on the printer,” he says. “Thus, my leadership in the fake ID ring began.”
Catch Me if You Can
Trosclair thought of himself as Leonardo DiCaprio's con-man character in the movie Catch Me If You Can. The way he was able to talk himself out of sticky situations, thinking quickly on his feet when encounters with law enforcement occurred, wooing girls with his pizzazz, he was living out his silver screen fantasy.
Trosclair didn’t know anything about Adobe Photoshop at first, but as the business progressed, his skill increased. “Pixel by pixel,” he altered images to make the fake IDs look as legit as he possibly could. But somewhere in Athens, an underage student trying to buy beer at a store or get into a bar with one of Trosclair’s fake IDs was having his ID confiscated. Any bouncer or cashier who gave the first batch of IDs a close look would notice the flimsy generic hologram with the words “genuine authentic” written on them.
“As a businessman, I was concerned with customer service,” Trosclair says. “I didn’t want my customers coming back to me complaining that their thing got taken up... I wanted a good, accurate one.”
Back in front of the computer screen and motivated by his minor-in-possession charge, Trosclair took to the Internet to research holograms. He hoped to find a more authentic version that would get people into bars without any problems and might even pass the visual scrutiny of a police officer.
“I found this guy named ID Chief… He gets shut down like once a month, but he’s like probably the largest international fake ID ring," he says. "He actually makes holograms and supplies holograms to people here in the states who make them, he’s based in China.”
The ID Chief wanted Trosclair and Ruby to wire him $250 for a stack of holograms. “Sounded like we were just going to lose 250 bucks,” Trosclair says, but a couple weeks after they wired the money, he opened his mailbox to find a package that contained genuine Florida driver’s license holograms.
From that point on, the business was, more or less, smooth sailing. Trosclair had a team of sellers finding buyers for fake IDs and even trained a few select people on how to use the equipment to make them. Now he just sat back in his dorm room collecting money—making up to $2,500 a week. Seeing fraternity brothers swipe their parents’ credit cards for whatever they wanted no longer bothered him. His wallet was too thick to close.
Night after night, shot after shot, Trosclair often picked up the bar tab for his entire entourage. The crew went to Toppers International Showbar, the strip club. He paid everyone’s cover charge and handed out stacks of ones. His copious cash supply fueled by his fake ID coolness got him girls, drinks, anything he wanted. Some girls even offered sexual favors in exchange for a fake ID, he says. He was a big man on campus and off.
“They say we made over a hundred grand doing this. Maybe, maybe not," Trosclair says. "We didn’t have an accounting firm calculating how much we did, ya know? You get cash money, and you would go spend it. You go out. I would take my friends out to dinner. I really wanted to be in a fraternity so bad, ya know? I thought these kids were my friends. I’d take them out to dinner, I’d go buy everyone shots downtown, I’d go buy top-shelf liquor,” he said. “I probably hooked up with more girls than I ever did in my life in that year, but the thing is when you have that, you’re always wanting more.”
Trosclair’s sophomore year was a good year to him, and he had originally planned to stop selling fake IDs at some point, but he got “addicted” to money. “I started developing some pretty expensive spending habits too, so that’s why I couldn’t stop doing it,” he says.
In April 2011, he and Ruby went to the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta. A couple of older girls they met invited them to hang out at a bar afterwards. At the door, there was a cop checking IDs. With a confident stride, they walked up to the police officer and presented their sophisticated fake Florida licenses. But the cop doubted their validity and began interrogating Ruby and Trosclair.
“We got pretty catch-me-if-you-can, like Leonardo DiCaprio, when it came to these things," he says. "I could play off pretty well, and this cop just wasn’t buying it."
For 45 minutes, the cop checked out the IDs. He actually picked up the phone and called the state of Florida to find out who was really living at the addresses listed on the fake IDs. He found out it was not Trosclair and Ruby. They were both arrested.
Living in a muggy, overheated room of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house, Trosclair says he “lived like shit” for the rest of that summer and says one of his fraternity brothers had stolen his air conditioning unit. With no students to sell IDs to, and having spent all the money he previously made, he was once again completely broke.
Ashley Hampton’s roommate was uncomfortable. Hampton was a middle person for Ruby selling fake IDs to freshmen in the dorms. Her roommate grew weary of Hampton’s underground activities and reported it to the resident assistant, which began a legal chain reaction.
UGA police raided Hampton’s room on Sept. 22, 2011, and she led the police to Ruby immediately after.
That same afternoon, Trosclair and Ruby walked into the courthouse to sign up for the probation from their Augusta arrest, while at the same time a judge was signing the search warrant for Ruby’s apartment. At the courthouse, they ran into the mother of one of Trosclair’s fraternity brothers. She was a lawyer, and she advised them that they shouldn’t have talked to the officer in Augusta, or any officer, without consulting a lawyer first.
They returned to Ruby’s place to wait for Trosclair’s younger brother, but the police broke down Ruby’s door.
Trosclair and Ruby were detained in the front yard as the cops removed evidence from the house. “We don’t know who you are. We don’t think you have anything to do with this at all, so just sit tight,” an officer told Trosclair. He played the innocent card and asked the officer if he could get his cell phone in the house to call his brother, who was supposed to be arriving soon. The cop allowed him to do so, and as he walked out of the house with phone in hand, his brother arrived with a “what the hell is going on?” look. Trosclair grabbed him and quietly said, “Let’s just get out of here.”
According to Trosclair, “Three weeks goes by, and I thought it basically slipped under the cracks, and they didn’t know who I was and I was not going to be involved with it.”
Police eventually showed up at the front door of his fraternity. Standing out on the front porch, they asked Trosclair, “Do you know why we’re here?” He responded, “I understand my buddy might be in a little bit of trouble.” Shaking their heads they said, “No, this is not about Tyler, this is about your involvement.” He continued his façade of ignorance and asked, “What are you talking about?” The cops told him that this was his “opportunity to come clean” and that “your buddy Tyler has already told everything you’ve done.”
Trosclair says he didn’t believe their bluff, but they threatened to charge him with a federal crime and dragged his little brother into the mix, too. One of the officers handed him a business card and told him, “You better have an appointment to talk to us by 3 p.m.” But he called his lawyer instead, who called the police station and told them that they would not be cooperating with the investigation.
About a week later, Trosclair got a phone call from his fraternity president as he prepared to take a test in his physical chemistry class. The police had a search warrant for the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house, but he says he wasn’t worried. He knew he didn’t have any illegal contraband or fake ID paraphernalia in his room. However, the police search warrant covered the whole fraternity house, which turned up other fake IDs and drugs belonging to other frat members.
The police were in his classroom moments later. They searched his book bag and interrogated him in front of his classmates. “I thought they were about to arrest me right there, and I had a test that day,” Trosclair says. “Let’s just say I didn’t do very well on that test.”
But the police did not arrest him yet. For the rest of the semester, Trosclair spent “every waking hour after class” in the law library researching his legal woes, and because of the trouble his other fraternity brothers got into as a result of the raid, he lost all the people he considered his friends. Under the threat of possible arrest, Trosclair left school in January 2012 to work in construction for his father.
“And I thought that point was the lowest of my life. Little did I know I was about to spend three months in jail two years later,” he says.
Trosclair returned to school in the fall of 2012 and lived a “normal life.” He got a job working at the Sunglass Hut, went to school, started a band and hung out with friends. He says he lived his life “clean” that entire academic year.
“I learned my lesson that year, long before I ever got arrested for this,” he says. “I changed my ways on my own. If the legal system thinks they’re helping me change, no, I did that on my own. The day they raided [Tyler’s] house, I knew.”
The search warrant used by police to search Ruby’s residence that day had the address of 1030 Barnett Shoals Road when the actual address was 1035 Barnett Shoals Road. Without the evidence collected at Ruby’s house, it’s questionable whether or not they would have been able to make a strong enough case—or any case—against Ruby and Trosclair.
“[My lawyer and I] assumed that, based on that illegal search warrant, that it’s over,” says Trosclair, adding that he “thought they made their point” by confiscating a bunch of fake IDs to stop underage drinking.
Just before the fall 2013 semester started, UGA police called to inform him that he had been indicted on 16 felony charges of manufacturing a false identification. Trosclair called Ruby. “Yup, I got the same call,” Ruby told him. Almost two years had gone by since the raid on Ruby’s apartment. Trosclair thought he had slipped through the cracks of the legal system, but the system always had his number.
Initially, he thought he could beat the rap. “Give me a few weeks until my case is dismissed, and I would be more than happy to have an interview,” Trosclair told Flagpole in an earlier email request to interview him.
“From what I’ve been told from a lot of people, the cops would sit there and tell people, ‘just sign this statement that you got [the fake ID] from William Trosclair, and we will offer you amnesty,’” he says.
Trosclair’s father had to put his house up as collateral to bail him out of jail. Trosclair tried everything to avoid conviction, but the legal back and forth between his lawyer and the prosecutor left Trosclair and his lawyer exhausted.
“They told us if we kept on trying to fight it, if we go lose at that point, they’re going to throw the book at us big time,” he says. “I was just so tired, and so over it.” His lawyer “wanted 10 grand extra on top of what my dad was paying him to go to trial.” Trosclair’s father had already sold his business to pay for his defense, he says.
“I feel so bad now, because... my dad had to sell his business, his dreams and stuff like that, to help us out,” Trosclair says. “I could not be more grateful for a great dad. So daddy did help me, yes he did, in that way, because I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.”
Trosclair eventually pleaded out the charges and spent three months in prison. He went in on Oct. 27, 2013, spending both Thanksgiving and Christmas behind bars, and was released on Jan. 10, 2014. “I finally shed my first tears about it when I was in,” he says.
Sitting in jail, a less remorseful Trosclair had a deep conversation with a fellow inmate. Trosclair was missing the family holidays, and his mother was scheduled for serious surgery, but he maintained it was worth it because he “had the best sophomore year a kid could have.” The other inmate shook his head and asked, “You’re going to tell me after all the stuff that’s happened, you being away from your momma when she has to have open heart surgery, you don’t regret it?” Trosclair began to cry.
“I got what I deserved, anyway. And I learned to appreciate what the judge does; I wrote him a letter to say that,” he says. Trosclair says he’s learned a lot of lessons that privileged rich kids who have their parents pay for everything just won’t get. He wanted so badly to be in a fraternity and to be accepted.
Now, Trosclair is trying to start a second career—this one legal—as a country singer. Just after being released, Trosclair was on stage ready to play a show. He told the crowd he felt like playing some Johnny Cash and led with a cover he called the “Colwell Prison Blues,” after the detention center he served his time in.
“I was a stupid 19-year-old kid." he recalls. "I wanted to make money, ‘cause I didn’t have any. I wanted to be around all these people. I wanted to be able to keep up with them and be able to go downtown and spend money on drinks and stuff like that and not have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. But there’s no excuse for stuff like that.”