A St. Paul man, accused of producing thousands of fake Minnesota driver’s licenses for underage students, was arrested and charged Thursday for assault and fleeing police.
Christopher Peterson sold approximately 3,500 fake IDs for $100 each during the last three to four years, St. Paul police spokesman Paul Schnell said.
Peterson, 23, recruited clients at the University and other campuses throughout the state, Schnell said. The investigation is ongoing and police might pursue Peterson’s clients, Schnell said.
“There is at least a preliminary indication that there will be some attempt to follow up on people who purchased false IDs,” he said.
Police are offering amnesty to those who send in Peterson-made IDs, Schnell said. The address is St. Paul Police Department Vice Unit, 367 Grove St., St. Paul, MN 55101.
Police received dozens of calls Friday from people looking to turn in IDs, Schnell said.
Getting caught with an illicit ID is a misdemeanor offense, Schnell said.
Peterson has not been charged with any forgery-related crimes, Schnell said. He was arrested on three charges of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of fleeing police in a motor vehicle.
St. Paul police investigated Peterson for more than a month after receiving a tip. During that time, Peterson sold phony IDs to two undercover decoys, Schnell said.
Plain-clothed officers attempted to arrest him after he met with students Thursday at Hamline University. Peterson fled the scene, nearly hitting three officers with his car, Schnell said.
A uniformed officer apprehended him a half-hour later, according to the criminal complaint.
Peterson told the officer he fled because he thought he was being carjacked.
The officers were wearing their badges and identified themselves as police, Schnell said.
Schnell said Peterson’s forged IDs were some of the best he has ever seen. The only flaw is that the black magnetic strip on the back did not work, he said.
“As a police officer, if I was presented one of these IDs and did not run it through the computer system, you may not, on the surface, be able to distinguish (from state-issued IDs),” Schnell said.
Police do not know how Peterson made the IDs, and Schnell said there is no indication that he had help from someone at Driver and Vehicle Services, where the state makes real driver’s licenses.
“At this time, the investigation is focusing on him,” Schnell said. “Unless other information is received, he will remain the center of the investigation.”
Police believe Peterson employed “agents” on Minnesota college campuses and possibly in neighboring states to help him recruit clients, Schnell said.
Peterson also provided customers with information on which establishments to avoid. He told buyers to leave their IDs behind if they were caught and he said he would make them new ones at a discounted price, Schnell said.
In a search of Peterson’s apartment, police confiscated a computer, printers, scanners, a laminator and other computer equipment, Schnell said.
Peterson kept records on clients – including names, addresses, phone numbers and digital photos – in the form of a political petition, Schnell said. Some students used fake names, but police can use Peterson’s records to match digital photos to phone numbers, Schnell said.
The use of fake IDs is common at campus-area bars, managers said.
Bobby Z’s in Dinkytown sees two bogus IDs each night on average, and as many as 30 a week early in the school year, assistant manager Ike Evenson said. The bar seizes fake IDs and turns them over to police, he said.
“We are very, very tough on IDs,” Evenson said.
The bar uses a black light to help distinguish real IDs from fakes, and management has talked about buying a magnetic scanner, he said.
Dinkytown Wine & Spirits uses a magnetic scanner and keeps all fake IDs, manager Dan Erickson said. The store has a box with more than 100 phony driver’s licenses recovered during the last six months, he said.