A massive late-night raid of a $1.3-million Rugby Road home culminated Tuesday evening with the arrest of a third suspect in a fraud operation that authorities said sent thousands of fake IDs to addresses at or near college campuses across the country.
Authorities charged Alan McNeil Jones, 31; Kelly Erin McPhee, 31; and Mark G. Bernardo, all of Charlottesville, with mail fraud, wire fraud, and fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents. The three were being held at an undisclosed location Tuesday.
At about 9:30 p.m. Monday, state police poured into the ritzy 900 block of Rugby Road in armored vehicles, toting rifles and clad in helmets and tactical gear. At 920 Rugby Road, where a wood stucco frame home stands tucked behind a row of hedges, authorities arrested McPhee and Bernardo.
Jones, also known as Joshua Tucker, fled in a white 2008 Range Rover with Washington state license plates, triggering a search for him that dragged through the following day as investigators combed through the house with an armored truck backed to the garage, armed officers standing guard and anxious neighbors looking on.
Inside, authorities found $200,000 in cash, a firearm resting atop a safe and a cache of weapons, "including high power assault rifles."
The drama of the previous night gained a new chapter shortly after U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy's late Tuesday afternoon announcement of the arrests of McPhee and Bernardo.
Police tracked down Jones' Range Rover parked in the Barracks Road Shopping Center area near the Banana Republic outlet. Cruisers swarmed toward Jones from several directions before city and state police apprehended him outside Harris Teeter.
Chris Greenwood of Charlottesville was shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond at Barracks Road when officers moved in, some carrying assault rifles.
“We just saw the police tear off down the street,” he said.
Heaphy said the probe began last year, after students at the College of Charleston in South Carolina were caught with fake IDs.
"That led to a multi-jurisdictional investigation: Homeland Security, the postal inspectors and Virginia State Police," Heaphy said. "They have been working on this for a long period of time and that led to sufficient information about this house, and the search warrant that was executed last night."
The suspects mailed more than 4,000 parcels starting in early 2011, manufacturing and selling "high quality fraudulent driver's licenses of various states" using fake addresses, businesses and identities to conceal the operation, according to federal criminal complaints.
Investigators found several College of Charleston students had purchased fake licenses from a company known as "Novel Designs," court records said. Buyers mailed cash to "Com Services" at a Charlottesville post office box. A week later, they received their phony licenses from an entity called "ND & Associates," addressed from a Richmond P.O. box, according to court records.
In January, the records said, authorities began honing in on Charlottesville, mounting a surveillance camera in the lobby of the city's main post office, located on Seminole Trail. That led them to Jones, using the name Joshua Tucker, whom authorities said they observed regularly checking the city P.O. box assigned to "Com Services."
On Jan. 23, they saw him climb into a white 2008 Range Rover with Washington state plates and a woman they believed to be McPhee in the passenger seat. After stopping at several local businesses, Jones parked the vehicle inside the garage at 920 Rugby Road.
City assessment records list the property value at $1.345 million and the owner as Phillipe LLC. The home was built in 2010. A photograph of it is featured on Charlottesville builder Jacques Custom Homes' website.
Landlords told authorities they rented the home to a man who identified himself as Joshua Tucker. He always paid in cash, mentioned he housed a large safe there and said he once paid $60,000 in cash for a vehicle, according to court records. The property owners said that during a maintenance visit in December 2011 they observed a room "fortified by Tucker with several boxes of latex gloves."
The landlords said Tucker "used multiple names and identifying information," and they sent him an eviction notice Friday, according to court records.
Neighbors said they knew the house was being rented but they had little contact with the tenants. Some neighbors recalled seeing a young man in his late 20s living at the home with a woman they believed to be his girlfriend. Others said they remembered seeing cars in the driveway: a red Jeep, a white Range Rover and a black Cadillac.
The red Jeep sported Alabama license plates that police linked to a 2005 Dodge Ram registered to Jones. The Cadillac was registered in Pennsylvania to Bai Wu, Bernardo's brother-in-law, documents said. Bernardo had used Wu as a straw purchaser for the Cadillac, documents said.
The suspects spread their business by word-of-mouth on college campuses across the country, court documents said. Jones operated with a long list of aliases, including Charles Brown, Joshua Tucker and John Williams, according to court records.
Having monitored the Rugby Road home since January, investigators began closing in late last month, ordering fake documents by email. They received detailed email instructions on the types of mailers to use to send the payment and notice that their shipment was ready Monday.
State police closed down the 900 block of Rugby Road shortly before 10 p.m. Monday and stormed the home as neighbors gathered outside.
Charlottesville police Lt. Ronnie Roberts said city police were not aware of the raid until just before it happened. State police notified the local communications center of the operation at 9:21 p.m., triggering an automatic notification of the Charlottesville police shift supervisor, who was in contact with the state police.
The following day, officers streamed in and out of the home through a front door that was missing a panel. The cars were searched and seized along with equipment for the fraud operation, records said.
Eventually, city animal control officers were called to remove a Doberman pinscher from the premises, Roberts said.
“The Doberman was very cooperative," Roberts said, "but declined to walk into the animal control truck by the ramps they had for it. So he was lifted into the truck.”
The dog is being held at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA.
Daily Progress staff writers K. Burnell Evans and Bryan McKenzie contributed to this story.