Two out of the four local residents accused of running a major fake ID ring using internet forum Reddit and Bitcoin online currency entered guilty pleas Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
Mark Alex Simon, 35, of the 4700 block of Stengel Avenue, and Aaron Kuns, 35, of the 3700 block of Delawn Drive, each pleaded guilty to charges in connection to a major national fake ID ring based out of Toledo.
Simon admitted to knowingly transferring false identification documents and to a newly filed charge of conspiracy to launder money. Kuns pleaded guilty to production of false identification documents and to the additionally filed charge of conspiracy to launder money.
Authorities in early 2018 said the arrest of the men and other co-defendants amounted to the destruction of a major national fake ID ring based out of Toledo, ran through the popular internet forum Reddit, and financed at least in part by online Bitcoin currency.
Between June, 2013, and February, 2018, prosecutors say the group created and transferred fake driver licenses and personal identification cards that appeared to have been issued by the states of Ohio, Michigan, and Utah. Simon was selling fake licenses and other identifications cards through Reddit under the user name TedDanzigSR. Customers paid for the fake IDs with Bitcoin, investigators said.
Kuns reportedly said Simon received the orders and then sent photos, personal information, and mailing labels to Kuns for processing using encrypted files. Kuns would make the IDs and package them for delivery while Ms. Alberts would pick them up from his garage and mail them, court documents show.
On Wednesday, U.S. Assistant Attorney Robert Kern said the evidence intended to be used in the case included matters relating to an undercover investigation prior to searches of the defendants’ residences, and evidence from the ‘Dark Web.’ The ‘dark web’ is a term that refers to encrypted parts of the internet that cannot be easily accessed by common online users.
When asked in February of 2018 how many fake IDs were made by the ring, officials said only “a lot.” Evidence seized in the case also included gold and silver coins and bars, $7,000 in cash, and $4.7 million in Bitcoin.
Simon will be required to forfeit $2.8 million in Bitcoin. From Kuns, the government seeks the forfeiture of roughly $10,000 in Bitcoin.
Judge Jeffrey Helmick will sentence both men on Sept. 18 They each face a maximum of 35 years in prison and three years of supervised release.
During separate hearings for Simon and Kuns on Wednesday, Judge Helmick asked them a series of questions and reviewed a multiple-page plea agreement, which outlined the specifics of the defendants giving up their rights to a jury trial, potential penalties. Most of the questioning were based on “yes” and “no” answers.
When Judge Helmick asked Kuns if he was clear-headed to enter into his plea, Kuns said he was “pretty nervous.” Simon also admitted to drinking alcohol the night before — finishing his last beverage around midnight — but said he was clear-headed by the time of the hearing around 4:45 p.m. Wednesday.
Judge Helmick twice asked both defendants if they intended to plead guilty or not guilty to each charge.
“Guilty, your honor,” Simon said to both charges, as did his co-defendant.
After signing the agreement, Simon — who said he received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Toledo — looked at the document and took a sip of water.
Sarah Alberts, 35, of Perrysburg, and Benjamin Stalets, 29, of the 2200 block of Parkwood Avenue, are also charged in connection to the case. An additional charge of money laundering conspiracy was also filed against Ms. Alberts, who is expected to enter a plea on July 2, while Stalets’ case is still pending.
Simon, who appeared to be the ring-leader of the group, and his three co-defendants were initially charged with production of false identification documents, transferring false identification documents, and possession of equipment used to produce false identification documents.
The additional charges against Simon and Kuns will be dismissed with the plea agreement, and the government agreed not to pursue additional charges related to the case.
All defendants were previously released from jail.
On Wednesday, Simons’ bond was also modified so he could have limited access to the internet at a job. Judge Helmick indicated there would be a monitor placed on the computer to track Simon’s usage, and Simon must make the device available for a search at any time.