A Lewiston man is facing felony forgery charges in what Maine State Police portray as a large operation to produce high-quality, counterfeit vehicle inspection stickers.

Percy Hutchins, 31, was arrested this month at his home on Sabbatus Road after state police uncovered what they said was a counterfeiting operation that could date back to 2010 and involve hundreds or even thousands of fake stickers. They say it is the latest example of fake inspection stickers being sold to owners of cars that likely would be deemed unsafe and taken off the road.

“This is significant,” state police spokesman Steve McCausland said of the case against Hutchins. “Typically, we have either found a singular event or a few (violations). But this one is far more widespread.”

State police say they seized 27 counterfeit inspection stickers during a search of Hutchins’ home, and confiscated 10 stickers earlier in the investigation.

A release from McCausland’s office said state troopers believe Hutchins may have printed thousands of fake stickers and sold them for $100 each, or more.

Police also seized proofs of the stickers and a computer and printer.

McCausland said police have been seeing counterfeit stickers throughout central Maine, including in the Augusta area. Although counterfeit stickers vary in quality, from fairly crude to sophisticated, McCausland said modern printers are making it more challenging for police to spot fakes.

“These are of a much higher quality,” he said. “It takes a very watchful eye.”

Police statewide are seeing an increasing number of fake or illegally obtained inspection stickers, which can put the public at risk by allowing unsafe vehicles to stay on the road.

In February, Glenn A. Geiser Jr., who owns the used car dealership My Maine Ride in Bangor, pleaded no contest to charges that he used counterfeit or illegally purchased inspection stickers on cars that his dealership sold. Geiser agreed to a $7,000 fine and a 180-day suspension of his license to sell cars.

In 2011, Biddeford police uncovered a group of people who were printing counterfeit stickers and selling them for $75 to $100 each. At least four people were charged with manufacturing inspection stickers, and Biddeford police ticketed more than 100 cars bearing fake stickers.

A year earlier, state police broke up a counterfeit sticker operation in Aroostook County.

Hutchins was taken to the Androscoggin County Jail and charged with aggravated forgery, a felony punishable by as much as 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Maine is one of about 15 states that require annual vehicle safety inspections. Some states operate official inspection stations, but Maine relies on certified garages, service stations and dealerships to do the inspections.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

kmiller@pressherald.com

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH