It never occurred to Doug McLaughlin-Williams that his role in a counterfeiting ring during his senior year at South Lakes High School would jeopardize his lifelong dream of playing professional basketball or that he would carry a felony conviction for the rest of his life.
But after confessing to U.S. Secret Service agents last summer that he used two fake $20 bills at the Silver Diner Restaurant in Reston, Boston University rescinded McLaughlin-Williams' basketball scholarship.
And in late December, the former high school basketball star was arrested by Fairfax County police along with four other former South Lakes students on federal and state counterfeiting charges. Three months later, he pleaded guilty to felony charges of "uttering obligations and securities of the United States" in federal court.
LAST FRIDAY at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, U.S. Judge James Cacheris sentenced McLaughlin-Williams, 19, to two years probation, 100 hours of supervised community service and mandatory drug testing.
Apologizing for his actions, McLaughlin-Williams said he was sorry for the shame he had brought on his community and parents.
"Ever since I was born they brought me up, teaching me right from wrong, and more than anything I feel I've let them down," he said.
John Zwerling, McLaughlin-Williams' attorney, said his client has worked to put his life back together and is still hoping to play professional basketball one day.
"He's done everything since this incident to set his life back on track," Zwerling said.
After losing his Boston University scholarship, McLaughlin-Williams enrolled at Winchendon School, a Massachusetts prep school. Next fall, he will play basketball for Appalachian State University in North Carolina on a scholarship.
While at South Lakes, McLaughlin-Williams led the Seahawks to the 2003 state basketball championship, where they lost to Highland Springs High School. Following the season, he was named 2nd team all-state, 1st team all-region and 1st team all-district.
"Mr. McLaughlin-Williams is a young man with a bright future ahead of him, but for this felony conviction," Zwerling said.
THREE WEEKS AGO, Joseph Lawrence Bleich, 19, was also sentenced by Cacheris to two years probation, 100 hours of community service and mandatory drug testing for his role in the case. Bleich, along with David Alexander Post, 19, were charged with conspiring to counterfeit $4,000 in U.S. currency to buy marijuana at a West Virginia concert. Post is scheduled to be sentenced Friday morning at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria.
William Chandler Greene, 19, was sentenced May 17 in Fairfax County Circuit Court to 12 months in jail. Greene was charged with using one fake $20 at a Reston 7-Eleven convenience store.
The fifth former South Lakes student involved in the case, John Adam Blake, 19, will be sentenced July 2 in Fairfax County Circuit Court for selling $120 in the fake $20 bills. Blake admitted to possessing the counterfeit currency to investigators and reportedly used the fake money at Reston fast food restaurants, according to county court documents.
Though Greene is the only defendant who has so far been sentenced to jail time, he will retain his rights to vote and carry a firearm and he will not be forced to disclose a felony conviction on job applications.
"Every job they apply for, they're going to have to check the box that says they're convicted felons," said U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Gregory Watson, who investigated the case. "You don't walk away from that."
Counterfeiting has been on the rise for the past several years, Watson said, because of the prevalence of high-quality digital technology. The Secret Service estimates that there is as much as $170 million worth of counterfeit U.S. dollars in currency worldwide Ñ comprising about 2 percent of the total $655 billion in currency.
In 2002, the Secret Service arrested 4,366 counterfeiters worldwide, shutting down 555 manufacturing operations, Watson said.
Watson said the Secret Service believes less than 15 percent of all counterfeiting operations involve teenagers using a scanner and printer, like the former South Lakes High School students did.
"It's very easy to do," he said. "But most of the time, it's not a case with teenagers."
Zwerling, however, said it is unusual for a case involving low-scale counterfeiting by teenagers to ever end up in court. He said he blames the case's publicity for inviting prosecutors to make an example out of his client.
"They screwed up and most people get a chance to make good and learn their lesson," he said. "They've got to walk with felony convictions for the rest of their lives."