WASHINGTON — The two men who allegedly posed as federal agents while “lavishing gifts” on Secret Service agents assigned to the White House pose a “risk to national security” and should be held without bail pending trial, federal prosecutors said Friday.
Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 35, of Washington, D.C., were “not merely playing dress-up,” prosecutors said in a memo urging a judge to keep the pair locked up. Their “impersonation scheme was sufficiently realistic to convince other government employees, including law enforcement agents,” that their fake employment was legitimate, according to court documents.
Both men had firearms, ammunition, body armor and tactical gear, as well as surveillance equipment, prosecutors said, and they were “engaged in conduct that represented a serious threat to the community, compromised the operations of a federal law enforcement agency, and created a potential risk to national security.”
Taherzadeh and Ali, who both appeared virtually for a bail hearing Friday, are charged with impersonating Department of Homeland Security agents. Neither has entered a plea of guilty or not guilty.
Prosecutors have indicated more charges are likely in what they described as an intricate, yearslong scheme that included getting close to Secret Service agents assigned to the White House and first lady Jill Biden.
The two men compromised U.S. Secret Service personnel in protective details and with access to the White House complex “by lavishing gifts upon them, including rent-free living,” prosecutors wrote in their memo, adding that Taherzadeh allegedly acknowledged “he had provided a ‘doomsday bag,’ generator, flat screen television, two iPhones, a drone, a gun locker, a Pelican (gun) case, and a mattress to agents and officers of the USSS.”
“It is a serious offense and there is a serious danger,” prosecutor Joshua Rothstein told Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey at the bail hearing. “They tricked people whose job it is to be suspicious of others.”
Four Secret Service agents have been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation, the FBI said in a filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The agent detailed to the first lady was among those placed on leave, senior law enforcement officials have said.
Prosecutors argued that Taherzadeh and Ali are both flight risks and pose “a danger to the community based on their use and possession of firearms and other weaponry.”
Ali made two trips to Iran “not long before the charged activity began” and also traveled in recent years to Iraq, Egypt, Qatar, Turkey and Pakistan, where he was born, prosecutors said, labeling his case as a particularly “serious” flight risk.
He allegedly told one witness in the case that he has ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agency. “Until this claim can be further investigated, and given the nature of Ali’s conduct, specifically impersonating federal law enforcement in order to ingratiate himself with and infiltrate networks of federal law enforcement officers and other federal employees, his claim must be taken literally and seriously,” prosecutors said, adding that if he fled, it “could cause significant damage to our national security.”
Taherzadeh told investigators that Ali “funded most of their day-to-day operations but Taherzadeh did not know the source of the funds,” according to the memo.
In addition to a large cache of guns, ammunition, tactical gear and items like brass knuckles, a currency counter and a fingerprint kit, the pair held five apartments in a D.C.-area building where numerous law enforcement agents live, the FBI said.
Prosecutors said the apartments were obtained through Taherzadeh’s company, which is called United States Special Police. The building’s landlord, Congressional Square Owner LLC, said in a separate civil court filing last year that the company leased the apartments in 2020 for the purpose of sub-leasing them to third parties, but then never paid any rent or building fees.
The landlord was granted a $222,000 default judgment against United States Special Police in February. It’s unclear if the judgment was paid. A lawyer for the building did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The landlord’s lawsuit was first reported by Talking Points Memo.
At Friday’s detention hearing, Rothstein said he believed Taherzadeh and Ali were in the process of being evicted when they were arrested earlier this week.
The criminal complaint against them said they had set up surveillance cameras inside the apartment building.
Taherzadeh told investigators that Ali had “obtained the electronic access codes and a list of all of the tenants in the apartment complex,” and agents who searched their apartments found a binder containing the residents’ apartment numbers and contact information, according to the memo.
Prosecutors said they wanted Taherzadeh held in part because they’re concerned he could tamper with witnesses and evidence. They noted that after he found out he was being investigated, he began “deleting his social media posts related to law enforcement” and turned off GPS tracking on his iPhone.
Prosecutors also noted that he shouldn’t have had access to any guns, given that he had a domestic violence conviction in 2013. It “is unlawful for Taherzadeh to possess a firearm or even a single round of ammunition,” they wrote.
“As practiced liars who perpetrated a long-term deception — cooking up entirely fake personas and positions, elevating themselves with imagined pretensions to be above the law and above others — they cannot be trusted to return to court, to cease their efforts to obstruct the investigation, nor to not simply reassemble or use an arsenal similar to the one they built here,” prosecutors concluded in the memo.
Rothstein added in court that prosecutors found a garbage bag of documents and shredded paper while searching their apartments. He also told the judge that investigators aren’t sure of the purpose of the scheme, and that authorities are still looking into the source of their money.
The judge ordered the hearing to be continued Monday and urged the government to try to find more answers in the meantime.
“This is a complicated case. Never seen one quite like it,” Harvey said.
CORRECTION (April 8, 2022, 5:45 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article mischaracterized Taherzadeh and Ali’s claim to five properties in a D.C.-area building. They rented them; they did not own them.