A group of serious-looking men and women dressed in business suits, casual clothing, police uniforms and army fatigues quickly went to their third floor destination in Thurston Hall Wednesday afternoon. Fear penetrated students within earshot of the group’s first words.
Police, search warrant, an officer yelled after a few loud knocks on a resident’s door. Word had gotten out about the third-floor fake ID operation.
The student whom the Secret Service, Metropolitan Police and University Police came to question did not hear the banging on his door or the loud announcement. He was in the shower, unaware that a hobby started for fun was about to have serious repercussions.
The entourage of law enforcement officials made their way to the bathroom door, knocked and made the announcement again. This time he heard them and had few options.
If the feds are knocking on my door, they probably have enough to can me, so I might as well cooperate to the fullest, said the student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Four weeks spent creating the perfect ID and distributing his product to other Thurston Hall residents had finally caught up to the third-floor resident.
The suspect said he recognized one of the plain-clothed MPD officers in his room that day. The officer had knocked on his door a week earlier asking to purchase an ID. Though the suspect denied him because he had stopped selling the IDs, it was too little, too late.
The suspect said he began the operation about four weeks ago when he bought a $50 laminator to see if he could make fake IDs. He already had a computer, printer and Adobe Photoshop. All he needed were pictures, he said. A neighbor across the hall from the suspect said she took pictures with her digital camera and gave them to the suspect.
The suspect said the operation started out as a little stunt that freshmen pull, but became more involved as the quality of his work improved.
The suspect said he originally wanted the IDs to get into clubs a 17-year-old is not allowed to enter but soon started selling his phony New Jersey and Maine licenses to cover the cost of new equipment. As his database of pictures grew to more than 100 people, the suspect said it became well-known around the building that somebody was making fake IDs.
Other third-floor residents said the suspect was not making an effort to keep his illegal practices a secret. He approached students with samples of his work, posted pictures on the Thurston Hall server, left his door open while making the IDs and sold his product to anyone willing to pay, neighbors said.
I knew he was doing it, but I kept out of it because he was so uncareful about it, said one of the suspect’s roommates, who asked to remain anonymous.
The suspect said he realizes now how careless he was but said some students exaggerated his practices.
I didn’t hold a gun up to your head and say, `Hey, buy an ID,’ he said.
The suspect said he sold between 40 and 50 IDs, charging $60 and $80. Though he could not detail his purchases or the involvement of other third-floor residents because he is still being questioned by the Secret Service, he said rumors that he made substantial amounts of money are untrue.
The suspect was grilled on the details of his operation for four hours Wednesday while neighbors gathered to speculate and contemplate serious worries of their own.
Law enforcement officials went door to door, telling students to turn in fake IDs they obtained. Students, worried about the trouble they could face and certain that the Secret Service would obtain their names anyway, jumped at the chance to cooperate.
People were pouring (fake IDs) out of their wallets right away, a third-floor resident and close friend to the main suspect said.
According to UPD, about 25 students turned in the IDs they bought from the same third-floor resident. The suspect said not all the IDs he sold were turned in Wednesday. As of Sunday night Dolores Stafford, director of UPD, said she had no additional information.
MPD officers told the students to turn in all IDs by 3 p.m. Thursday to get the most leniency possible, residents said.
One third-floor resident said an officer clearly stated that cooperation was in her best interest.
Only you can help yourself, the officer said.
The main suspect was the only one out of five third-floor residents taken in for questioning by the Secret Service to be held in custody, he said. He is also the only one currently charged with the crime of juvenile forgery, he said. MPD will not charge others allegedly involved until the close of the investigation, he said.
The suspect awaits his Nov. 16 court date from his Maryland residence.
The suspect said he has no idea what punishment he will receive from the District or the University but that the University’s punishment will probably be more severe.
The University is pretty pissed off about the whole happenings, said the suspect, who is currently under interim suspension and banned from campus.
The suspect said he may not return to the campus until a hearing with Student Judicial Services. The hearing has not been scheduled, he said. SJS was unavailable for comment.
While they have been granted full amnesty from federal prosecution, students who purchased fake IDs from the suspect said they are also unsure about their future at GW.
No one seems to want to tell us what could possibly happen, said a third-floor resident that turned in his ID Wednesday.
For many Thurston Hall residents, the wait to hear from the University is unnerving, a third-floor resident and close friend to the suspect said.
It would be our hopes that, since the Secret Service is giving us total amnesty, the University would, he said.
The largest mystery remaining for the suspect is how Wednesday’s nightmare started.
I still to this day have no idea how I was caught, he said.