by Rene Gupta
When students leave for college each fall, they bring their their laptops, their backpacks and their flip flops. But a surprising number of them are also bringing their fake IDs or getting a fake ID once they get to campus. A study published earlier this year found that two-thirds of college students used fake IDs to buy alcohol and get into bars, and it’s a common problem on Franklin Street.
It’s the weekend and Chapel Hill bars are packed.
But before you can get in to drink and dance the night away, you’ll likely have to get past somebody like Matthew Holtry. He’s the bouncer at the Franklin Street bar called The Library, and he’s on the lookout for fake IDs.
“I can tell by the coloring, the laminate, the holograms,” Holtry said. “Honestly, whenever I was underage I had a bunch of fake IDs, so I researched how to do it. I know what they look like and the tricks that people use.”
Holtry says he sees about 10 to 15 IDs each night that he suspects are fake. Sometimes he confiscates them, but not always. He says he never lets people with fake IDs into the bar.
“Depending on how the person reacts I used to take them all the time. But, I know how it is to be an underage college kid. I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s night out. I just give them back and turn them away.”
But for more than 100 people in Orange County last year, underage drinking led to trouble with the law — usually a citation and fine. That happened to UNC Senior Sarah Piscitelli when she was underage.
“I was 20 with my friend, we were in the bathroom of La Rez,” Piscitelli said. “I was washing my hands and this girl starts talking to me, who looked about my age. And she started asking me, ‘Oh, what bar are you going to after this and where is good to go?’ And then she was like, ‘Can I see your ID?’ And my brain was like, ‘Oh, crap.’ So I tried to walk away but she grabbed me and said Chapel Hill Police, let me see your ID. I showed my fake Id, she wrote me a citation.
Both the Chapel Hill Police and the state Alcohol Law Enforcement Division patrol bars and other places where people can buy alcohol, sometimes working undercover.
ALE special agent Jeff Lasater says you shouldn’t be surprised if they approach you.
“They will just be dressed in plain clothes on a nightly basis where they go to convenient stores, grocery stores, bars, restaurants,” Lasater said. “If the agent is out for example at a bar and they’ve got a suspicion to believe that person is underage or they’re very youthful looking. They will ask the person for their ID.”
Lasater’s message: If you’re approached by a police officer or ALE agent, your best bet is to cooperate.
“ALE is not out to try and ruin anyone’s life,” Lasater said. “We’re out there to do our jobs. When we come in contact with a student underage, we want it to be an encounter that’s positive for both of us. We’re certainly not trying to take away anyone’s rights but if we ask for an id it turns negative if students try to walk away they could be detained and they could be arrested if they’re underage.“
North Carolina law makes a distinction between people who use Fake IDs, and those who borrow real IDs from other people. Using somebody else’s real ID is a more serious offense.
Back on Franklin Street, the bouncers at the bars say they see a little bit of everything — fake passports, fake military IDs, and photos that look nothing like the person. A.J. Tama is a bouncer at Top of the Hill.
“Normally, if we see a fake ID we usually give them the benefit of the doubt so we’ll ask for a second form or we’ll ask typical security questions about the ID,” Tama said. “We personally will never get the police or ALE involved.”
Still, even if bar owners want to be lenient, they can’t keep police or ALE agents from patrolling the bar or dance floor or bathroom inside. Tama has this simple advice for underage students.
“Don’t use fake IDs. Wait till you’re 21.”