- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad is suspected of pocketing thousands of dollars in illicit profits through the sale of phony passports, driver's licenses and credit cards in an alien-smuggling scheme that authorities yesterday described as a "one-man operation."
An investigation by police in Antigua and a separate probe by the FBI in that island nation have focused on accusations that Mr. Muhammad sold counterfeit passports, stolen credit cards and other identity papers for between $1,000 and $3,500 each to support, in part, his nomadic lifestyle.
Some of the documents are believed to have been used to smuggle people into the United States, said John Fuller, a member of an investigative task force set up by the Antiguan Attorney General's Office to investigate Mr. Muhammad's actions on that Caribbean island.
"There are allegations that this man habitually forged documents, for various purposes," Mr. Fuller said.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms yesterday confirmed that a .223-caliber rifle used in the sniper killings in Maryland, Virginia and the District also was involved in a fatal shooting in Louisiana.
Authorities said the Sept. 23 shooting death of a beauty-supply worker during a robbery in Baton Rouge was matched to the rifle found in Mr. Muhammad's 1990 Chevrolet Caprice after his Oct. 24 arrest at a Frederick County, Md., rest stop.
The victim, identified as Hong Im Ballenger, 45, was shot once in the head, police said. The shooter was described by witnesses as a young black man who fled into a park.
Louisiana and federal investigators also are trying to determine if the same weapon was used in a second Baton Rouge shooting. That victim survived. Mr. Muhammad, formerly known as John Allen Williams, grew up in Baton Rouge and still has relatives and friends there, including one of his ex-wives, police said.
Mr. Muhammad, 41, and his companion, John Lee Malvo, 17, also have been named on murder warrants filed in Montgomery, Ala., in the fatal shooting of a liquor store clerk during a Sept. 21 robbery. The weapon in that case also was identified as the .223-caliber weapon found in Mr. Muhammad's car, although no rifle was reported to be seen by witnesses at the scene.
Police, however, now doubt early concerns that a third person was involved in the Alabama shooting, although investigators in Montgomery continue to focus on that possibility.
"They are backtracking to see. The problem with these cases is you have witnesses who may have seen somebody in the parking lot. It could have been someone just standing nearby," one police source said, adding that there also was no evidence a third person was involved in the sniper attacks in the Washington area.
Last night, WJLA-TV (Channel 7) and WUSA-TV (Channel 9) had transcripts of a telephone call to Rockville city police said to be from Mr. Malvo the day after the shooting at a Falls Church Home Depot. The caller disputes the words written on a tarot card found in Bowie that were leaked to the media. Instead of "I am God," he said, the card said "Call me God." The dispatcher told the caller that Rockville wasn't handling the investigation and offered to give the man the phone number of Montgomery County police.
In the Antigua investigation, authorities said Mr. Muhammad, operating out of Antigua and Tacoma, Wash., is believed to have used cash from the sale of the phony documents, along with money believed to have been taken in armed robberies across the country, to support himself and Mr. Malvo.
Mr. Fuller said authorities have focused on a number of concerns, adding that the FBI already has interviewed several island residents.
"We're now concentrating on matters which range from Malvo, what he did here and how he got out of here, to allegations that Muhammad was involved in a document factory," Mr. Fuller said. "There are suggestions that he was using good American technology like Adobe Photoshop to produce fake documents."
Mr. Fuller said Mr. Muhammad is suspected of "forging U.S. travel identity such as driver's licenses and birth certificates to help people get into the United States."
"The obtaining of an Antiguan passport is of very little use to anyone unless it has a visa in it to get to the [United States]," he said, adding that if a person got an Antiguan passport and had a forged driver's license, it might not be hard to enter the United States.
Asked whether Mr. Muhammad was operating an alien-smuggling ring, another investigator close to the Antigua probe said: "I don't think it's a ring. I think he was the ring."
One federal official said investigators believe Mr. Muhammad was "actively involved" in the sale of driver's licenses, noting that several were found in the Chevrolet Caprice when the two men were arrested. Many of those licenses, the official said, contained Mr. Muhammad's picture, but with different names.
Investigators also are trying to determine if Mr. Muhammad supplied Mr. Malvo's mother, Uma Sceon James, with phony documents to assist her illegal entry last year into the United States.
Mrs. James and her son were arrested by the Border Patrol on Dec. 19 in Bellingham, Wash., as illegal immigrants, although they avoided deportation after the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service overruled a Border Patrol recommendation that they be sent home.
Mrs. James was freed on $1,500 bond and was scheduled for a deportation hearing Nov. 20. Her son was released into her custody, but he lived with Mr. Muhammad.
Jim Keary contributed to this report.

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