This fall will be the fourth consecutive semester Eric Van Deventer won’t be returning to school. He’s still paying for the time he was caught in Athens drinking and driving underage with a fake ID. Van Deventer is far from alone. The bust earlier this month of an alleged fake ID manufacturing ring that involved 17 University of Georgia students indicates the ubiquity of the deceptive driver’s licenses.
Easy to Fake
Indictments against UGA student William Trosclair and Gainesville State student Tyler Ruby—the ringleaders of the fake ID ring, according to police—were almost two years in the making. The roommate of UGA student Ashley Hampton, another accused member of the manufacturing ring, spoke to a residential advisor at Russell Hall about a conflict she had with Hampton. She was worried she would get in trouble if authorities ever found out that Hampton was the “middle person” for fake ID sales, according to a September 2011 Clarke County search warrant.
“I don’t have anyone to talk to, and this situation is bad,” Hampton’s roommate told the RA, according to the warrant.
The fake IDs were extremely high quality. The items police say they confiscated from Ruby and Trosclair’s house included a legitimate ID printer, blank ID cards and hologram laminates from four different states.
Authorities say Ruby and Trosclair employed couriers to snap photos in students’ dorm rooms, then delivered fake IDs for $50-$100. They are charged with dozens of felonies but are seeking to reduce the charges to misdemeanors.
IDs like those are sold to students like Van Deventer. When he was partying underage, he had a total of four fake IDs and would visit several Clayton Street bars, he says.
“It was pretty easy once we found a guy that actually made them. All we had to do was send him a picture and information, and he printed out a card for us,” Van Deventer says.
Clarke County Solicitor General C.R. Chisholm, who prosecutes misdemeanors, says charges for underage drinking and fake ID are pretty common, especially downtown. There were 452 arrests on charges of underage possession of alcohol and 38 arrests on charges of fake identification in the past year, according to ACC police. Some people were arrested on both charges.
Today’s technology has made the ability to doctor up forgeries a relatively easy task. Anyone with decent printer and Photoshop skills can forge a bootleg ID that can get past the door guy.
Photo Credit: Joshua Jones
“It’s easy to modify the ID itself,” says “Marc,” a former maker of fake IDs, who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. “If you really want to get into a bar bad enough, you’ll come up with whatever you can to make it work.”
Marc says he would scan an ID into a computer, size it to the exact scale of the original and match the fonts and colors. The only part he altered was the birth date. He would then print out the replica. Using a scalpel to cut out the date of birth on both the copy and original, he would replace the new date of birth using a special laminate to superimpose the false date onto the original.
“We never had anybody give us any shit about it. They looked perfect,” he says. “They kept all the original holograms on there.”
“It’s kind of ridiculous what will pass,” Van Deventer says. ”I’ve used a fake ID that said I was 24 years old when I was 19. It said I was 5-foot-4—I’m 6-foot—and said my name was Pedro. And it was a New Jersey ID as well.”
Easier to Enforce
David Basham, who’s worked his way up to manager from door guy in his eight years at the 40 Watt Club, says this type of behavior shows that “underage drinking is a social problem, not a drinking problem.”
He recalls a time when he was a door guy and a kid came in with an ID that looked genuine, but something about it “felt wrong.” He showed it to a fellow door guy for a second opinion, and his co-worker told him, “I know that this isn’t this person, because I know the person on the ID. This is his brother.”
Despite pleas from the younger brother, they turned him in. “This is our job, this is what we have to do,” Basham says.
Photo Credit: David Schick
Erik Nelson, bar manager for Walker’s Coffee and Pub, points out part of the problem: “There are only so many people who are of age in this town, and a lot of bars.”
Some bar owners and employees are reluctant to speak on the record, because they perceive a negative outlook by law enforcement. They say they feel that cops believe they’re allowing or condoning underage drinking when they’re not. But it’s a fairly common perception among UGA students that the part of downtown east of College Avenue caters to a younger crowd.
Basham, among others at downtown hotspots, says that the bust of the fake ID ring has led to some acknowledgement by UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson that bars are, in fact, doing their job. The arrests have some downtown bar owners, managers and doormen feeling vindicated.
“The fact that there is this huge fake ID ring in Georgia sort of exemplifies that we’re doing our jobs. You wouldn’t need fake IDs if we were just letting people in willy-nilly,” Basham says. “Prior to that, it’s always been, ‘This is a problem, and it’s your guys’ fault.’”
Lt. Gary Epps, who runs the downtown police substation, says he is “befuddled” by that attitude. To his recollection, the only time police have taken action against bars is when they fail compliance checks—known to most as sting operations.
“We’re not targeting anybody,” he says, adding that all the police are interested in doing is enforcing the law by making sure no minors are served alcohol.
From recent data gained through compliance checks, Chisholm tells Flagpole that there’s been a “vast improvement” over the past 10 years. A decade ago, Chisholm says, only 20-30 percent of downtown bars passed compliance checks, and today it’s at 80-90 percent.
Hard to Live Down
When underage drinkers get arrested, Chisholm says, they have three options: plead guilty, plead not guilty or go into a pre-trial intervention program—an option granted mostly to first-time offenders or to others depending on the severity of their criminal history.
The pre-trial intervention program—which can last anywhere from 12 to 18 months—is basically a way to avoid a criminal record. But it does come with, on average, a $300 fine, 60 hours of community service, drug abuse counseling and random drug and alcohol screenings, and offenders can be barred from the downtown area from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
However, violate any of these conditions and you’re back to choosing between either a guilty or a not-guilty plea.
Chisholm warns students that a fake ID charge on their criminal history looks “really ugly” and can affect their future employability.
“It says, ‘possession of fraudulent identification document’ [and] it looks really bad,” he says. “It does reflect, potentially, on your integrity and whether you’re being honest or not.”
Van Deventer says his arrest “ended his schooling career,” but he’s currently working to recover and hopes to be back at UGA by the spring.
“I didn’t come from a whole lot of money, so once that happened, all of my money and all my time was put into hiring a lawyer and paying court fees,” he says. ”And having to serve time in jail.”
Minor in possession of alcohol: up to six months in jail, a $300 fine or both.
Possession of a fake ID: up to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.
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