SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Fifteen people have been arrested in connection with a scheme in which they purchased fake driver's licenses that were manufactured internationally, officials said.
Saratoga Springs Police said at least 14 teens bought the fake licenses online to buy alcohol and get into bars in the Saratoga Springs area since last summer, and police believe up to 30 more may have purchased them as well.
In some cases, alcohol was purchased for youths as young as eighth grade, police said.
But purchasing them abroad resulted in them giving their personal information to criminals in other countries that may cause serious credit problems later in life.
Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy said the licenses were "well crafted" and had many embedded security features that legitimate licenses have. They were purchased from a company in China called "ID Chief" and manufactured in eastern Europe, he said.
The IDs were able to pass muster with scanners that stores use to detect fake IDs, officials said.
"The IDs are so well crafted, that they have possess many of the enhanced security features that are embedded in the actual "real" licenses and therefore, could be used to cross into Canada or Mexico or board an aircraft," Murphy said. "Homeland Security is involved in this case and has contacted the DAs Office and advised of this concern."
The teens purchased the IDs for underage drinking, but when doing so gave their personal information to a Chinese company which has undoubtedly sold that information so that others can be used to open credit cards or create identification in their name, Murphy said.
"When the kids get older and try to get jobs, they will discover that they have hundreds of thousands of credit card debt in their name, mortgages in their name, likely won't be able to get licensed jobs, like stock brokers, pass background checks, or perhaps even renew a license, etc… because of the legal issues that those who bought their identify have incurred, like suspended licenses that others who purchased their identify will have done in their name," Murphy said in a news release.
The investigation began March 9, when one of the teens tried to buy liquor at an unspecified store in Saratoga Springs using one of the fake IDs, police said.
A customer in the store recognized him and knew his age, prompting the clerk to cancel the sale and call police.
Among those charged was the father of one of the teens, who assisted them in making the fake identification purchases.
He was identified by police as Stephen Smero, 48, of Saratoga Springs. Smero was charged with second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, a felony, and misdemeanor counts of unlawfully dealing with a child and conspiracy, according to police.
Police identified the following people as having been charged with misdemeanor counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument:
Hannah Sontz, 17, Clinton Street, Saratoga Springs
Hanna Biehn, 17 , Lexington Parkway, Niskyauna
Bradley Green, 18 , Friar Tuck Way, Saratoga Springs
Julia Ricciardi, 17 , Rolling Brook Drive, Saratoga Springs
Jamie Sampson, 18 , Acland Boulevard, Ballston Spa
Roxanne Friedman, 17 , Whistler Court, Saratoga Springs
Camila Machado, 18 , Liz Ann Drive, Saratoga Springs
Anna Smero, 17 , Locust Grove Road, Saratoga Springs
Lindsay Higgins, 17 , Oak Brook Blvd, Saratoga Springs
Olivia Poppel, 17 , Regatta View Drive, Saratoga Springs
Aspen Witt, 18 , Whistler Ct., Saratoga Springs
Kathryn Heidorn, 18 , Nicklaus Drive, Saratoga Springs
Charles Bielkiewicz, 18 , Brookside Drive, Saratoga Springs
Mark Benhaim, 19 , Bradford Circle, Marlborough, Mass.
Eleven of the suspects are Saratoga Springs High School students, two are recent graduates of the school and one is a Skidmore College student, police said.
The investigation by Saratoga Springs Police and the state Department of Motor Vehicles was continuing.