By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
As always, college is getting more expensive. Not only is tuition skyrocketing, but students need more and more costly necessities to get by, such as iPods and laptop computers. If your college of choice is in Dallas, you'll also want to shell out for a decent fake ID or risk staying at home while all the other kids grind up on each other at Republic on weekends.
Until recently, SMU's Jeremy Johnson, 23, would have been more than happy to provide the necessary false identification. But when he was arrested at his Dallas apartment last October for manufacturing thousands of fakes and shipping them as far as New York, that put a damper on his operation. According to police documents, Johnson had been printing the false Texas licenses for two years before students caught with his handiwork at Oklahoma University told police where they'd gotten them. They were, police say, some of the best fakes they'd seen.
"For all intents and purposes, they are as real as they get," says Detective Chris Amison of the Norman Police Department, who confiscated licenses Johnson had sent to OU. Amison described the magnetic strips on the backs of the IDs as fully functional, and "some you had to examine with a magnifying glass to actually see the imperfection." Amison said an identity theft task force had been looking for Johnson for about a year and a half but had been unsuccessful before OU students told police the name of the guy investigators knew only as "JJ."
The North Texas Identity Theft Task Force, comprising investigators from the U.S. Secret Service, Department of Public Safety and the Dallas County sheriff's and district attorney's offices, arrested Johnson, a finance major, at his home at the Phoenix apartment complex on Mockingbird Lane. They confiscated more than $32,000 in cash, a 1999 Range Rover and a flat screen television in addition to ID manufacturing equipment from the two-bedroom apartment, where market rent for a place the size of Johnson's is about $1,500 per month.
Soon after his October arrest, Johnson pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony charge of manufacturing of a counterfeit instrument with intent to sell. In January, he was sentenced to seven years probation and fined $2,000. He was also instructed to attend drug rehabilitation in Utah.
Johnson had made more than 2,000 of the Texas licenses and was sending them across the country but got a relatively light sentence because he didn't actually steal anyone's identity. "He was sending them out to multiple states," says Detective Amison, including Florida and Georgia. "Everywhere this guy had a friend who went to college." Because Johnson was using the real names and addresses of his fellow students and altering only their birth dates, he was able to escape more serious charges.
A 2001 graduate of Colleyville Heritage High School and former hockey player, Johnson still seems to maintain a little bit of pride in his work, despite his recent conviction: On his MySpace profile, Johnson jokes that his club involvement at SMU includes being the "official enabler of underage drinking."