Joseph Lawrence Bleich won't spend any time in jail for being a convicted felon, but he'll be haunted by his crime for the rest of his life, said his attorney Preston Burton.
Bleich was the first of five Reston teenagers to be sentenced in the counterfeit conspiracy by former South Lakes High School students.
Although Bleich faced up to five years in federal prison last Friday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Judge James C. Cacheris sentenced him to two years probation and 100 hours of community service. Bleich must also submit to regular drug and alcohol tests.
The ramifications of Bleich’s crime, however, will extend far beyond the next two years.
"This punishment has resonated and it is something that will haunt him for the rest of his life," Burton said.
BLEICH JUST COMPLETED his freshman year at James Madison University with a 3.5 GPA, but he was turned down recently from a grounds keeping job because of his felony conviction, Burton said.
Bleich’s rejection from the summer job could be a hint of things to come for the former varsity athlete and honor roll student. His felony conviction will likely preclude him from the best jobs, and he can no longer vote in Virginia or carry a firearm.
"The impact of this situation has very much registered with him," Burton said.
Bleich pleaded guilty in early February to "conspiracy to counterfeit securities and obligations of the United States."
A year earlier, when he was a senior at South Lakes High School, Bleich and a classmate, David Alexander Post, 19, printed $4,000 in fake $20 bills to buy marijuana at a West Virginia concert, according to court documents.
Upon returning to Reston, the teens sold $400 worth of the fake $20 bills to fellow South Lakes students.
After the counterfeit bills were used at a Reston 7-Eleven convenience store and at the Silver Diner, Fairfax County Police and the U.S. Secret Service opened an investigation that led to the arrests of Bleich, Post, Douglas McLaughlin-Williams, 19, John Adam Blake, 19, and William Chandler Greene, 19.
AT HIS SENTENCING Friday, Bleich's voice cracked as he said he takes full responsibility for his role in the counterfeiting conspiracy.
"I have no excuses," he said. "I want to say sorry to the government, this court, my community and, most importantly, to my family."
Judge Cacheris, calling the counterfeiting scheme a "lark," told Bleich that his youthful mistake will stay with him forever.
"I am sure you’ve questioned yourself 100 times," Cacheris said. "I hope that you’ll be able to take this incident and turn it into some good through community service."
Cacheris sentenced Bleich to a year less than the three years of probation recommended by Assistant U.S. Attorney Morris Parker. Also, Cacheris declined to impose the prosecution’s recommendation that Bleich be restricted from socializing with his co-conspirators.
Apart from the ramifications of the felony conviction, the case has damaged the friendship between the teenagers charged in the case. Although some are still friends, the use of one teenager’s testimony against another has taken its toll on a once-tight circle of friends, Burton said. Bleich was on hand to testify when Blake pleaded guilty March 3 in Fairfax County court.
"Joe regards at least some of them still as friends," Burton said.
COUNTERFEITING CASES in which fake bank notes are produced with a scanner and computer printer are on the rise, according to the U.S. Secret Service website, but it is unusual for such a case to make it before a federal or state judge, said Burton.
Burton said U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty should have used more discretion in the case because the conspiracy was a mistake by a group of teenagers, not a major counterfeiting operation committed by criminal masterminds.
"It’s unfortunate when young people exercise poor judgment that young people do," Burton said. "But I am more concerned when prosecutors do not appreciate just what these mistakes were — mistakes."