“The Defendants were not merely playing dress-up,” according to a memorandum filed in U.S. District Court in D.C. that alleged the men “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.”
The new details came as the two men arrested earlier this week, Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 35, appeared by video in federal court on Friday for a hearing in which prosecutors sought their detention, calling them a danger to the public.
Taherzadeh and Ali are each charged with impersonating federal law enforcement, specifically with the Department of Homeland Security, and have not entered a plea. Their court-appointed attorneys said they will argue against jailing the men pending trial. The hearing is scheduled to continue Monday.
Authorities are racing round-the-clock to understand the potential scope of the alleged scheme and the vulnerabilities it has created among the Secret Service, federal law enforcement and national security communities in the nation’s capital.
“This investigation is less than two weeks old, and every day the evidence gets worse and worse,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua S. Rothstein said in court Friday, as more witnesses come forward and search warrant returns and other material are analyzed.
FBI agents raided the Crossing apartment complex in the District’s Navy Yard neighborhood Wednesday, searching five properties allegedly leased by the men on three floors and a penthouse. Authorities say that the men lavished gifts upon members of the Secret Service — including rent-free apartments that would cost $40,000 a year, iPhones, surveillance systems, a drone, a flat-screen TV and a generator — and that it was not entirely clear what, if anything, they wanted in return.
Prosecutors told the court Friday that men might have surveilled and accessed without detection private apartments throughout a housing complex where law enforcement officers from many federal agencies reside, drawn by its central location and rent discounts. Separately, the building’s management company notified tenants Friday that FBI agents planned to go door-to-door to interview them, which could take until the end of next week.
Prosecutors have said a charge of conspiracy could be added, but authorities have not detailed a possible motive in the alleged scheme. In arguing the defendants pose risks, Rothstein cited two handguns found in apartments Wednesday and said Taherzadeh may have obstructed justice because he allegedly deleted social media posts in which he posed as law enforcement. Court papers also say Taherzadeh had passed himself off as an Army Ranger.
Rothstein said Ali also posed a flight risk, citing his past travel and unsubstantiated claim to one witness that he had ties to the Pakistani intelligence service. In a statement Friday, Pakistan Embassy spokeswoman Maliha Shahid denied Ali’s claim of ties to the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence, saying: “The claim of Mr. Haider Ali is totally fallacious. The Embassy categorically rejects this false claim.”
Ali, a naturalized U.S. citizen, has traveled at least twice to his native Pakistan, once to Egypt and once to Iraq, and apparently obtained a Pakistan national identity card in 2019 available to its citizens who live abroad, Rothstein said. He also traveled to Iran between July 2019 and January 2020, although investigators are still seeking to nail down details.
The prosecutor cautioned that the government was not arguing to detain Ali because of his claimed foreign intelligence connection, “but it is a concern.”
“We have never suggested he [Ali] got funds from anybody in Iran, nor ever suggested he got funds from Pakistan,” Rothstein said Friday. “We have not even credited his statement [of ties to ISI]. But we do have to take his statement seriously, if he claimed to an individual he has a connection to a foreign intelligence service.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey pressed the government to establish that the seized evidence was not part of any legitimate business, as well as whether any of the gifts or apartments that the men allegedly gave subjects was ever paid for or just borrowed as part of the alleged scam that they were federal agents spending the government’s money.
“You don’t know how much these two individuals paid versus put on credit?” Harvey asked. He asked whether the men were ever deputized as police, whether their company was a lawfully established entity, where their money came from and whether they had made any demands on their subjects in exchange for their alleged largesse.
Rothstein said the government is just at an initial stage of its investigation: “There’s no place in our memo where we alleged where the funds came from, because we do not know.” He added, “To some degree, the landlord subsidized their corruption unwittingly,” expecting future government payment promised by the men.
The detention memorandum also shed new details on how the men allegedly got into their expensive apartments, despite court records that showed Taherzadeh being trailed by creditors, lawsuits and debts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The men “created false and fraudulent identities for purposes of signing documents, including the apartment leases,” the detention memo states.
The investigation is also looking into whether any items in the men’s possession that were recovered in the search originated from federal agencies, including the Secret Service, the prosecutor said. That could raise the possibility the objects were given to the men in return for or in exchange for gifts or other favors the men doled out, creating another possibility of compromise.
The Secret Service put on leave four employees connected to the case, though the FBI characterized them in court papers as witnesses who seemed to have been duped by a well-executed ploy. One of the agents was assigned to the first lady’s detail.
“They tricked people whose job it is to be suspicious of other people and to ask these questions,” Rothstein said on Friday, adding, “Those people believed they were members of law enforcement, and it’s fair to say they were shocked to find out [Taherzadeh and Ali] were not in fact members of DHS.”
Rothstein said residents at the Crossing, many of them members of law enforcement agencies themselves, “believed there was a DHS operation in the building, and that’s what allowed them to have five apartments. That is how deep their plan ran, and how seriously and committed they were to it.”
The newly filed documents also described weapons, ammunition and other law enforcement instruments, as well as computers that could reveal far more information.
“They procured, stored, and used all the tools of law enforcement and covert tradecraft: weaponry, including firearms, scopes, and brass knuckles,” the court documents state.
The men also had tools to manufacture identities, including a machine to create Personal Identification Verification cards that if programmed correctly can be used to access sensitive law enforcement computers, the memo states. Authorities described finding passport photographs, tactical gear, bullet-resistant vests, gas masks, police lights, insignia and sensitive law enforcement training manuals.
Some residents had expressed concern that the men had gained access to personal details of tenants; the court papers say authorities did find a binder containing a list of residents, apartment numbers and contact information. The detention memo says Taherzadeh told authorities that Ali “had obtained the electronic access codes and a list of all of the tenants in the apartment complex.”
Rothstein said those access codes might have allowed the men to get into private apartments undetected. “There is no one in that building who knows whether or not these individuals were in their apartment,” he said. “The scale of the compromise situation they created is quite large, and it’s causing us to send agents out to interview many, many people.”
Investigators used a moving truck Wednesday night to remove objects seized in searches from five apartments, are working round-the-clock to interview witnesses and issued new grand jury subpoenas Friday to track the men’s finances, Rothstein said.
The company that manages the building declined to comment Thursday.
Two firearms were also found, prosecutors said — a Glock 19 handgun loaded with 17 bullets and a Sig Sauer P229, linked to Taherzadeh, which authorities said he is not allowed to possess, because of a past conviction for domestic violence. Prosecutors said one of the men offered to provide a Secret Service agent with a rifle.
The documents also state that authorities found two videos of Taherzadeh shooting a handgun and an assault rifle at a shooting range in Northern Virginia. In one video, the document says, Taherzadeh appears to be wearing a long-sleeve shirt with a Secret Service insignia on the arm.
“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,” the detention memo says.
The case is being handled by prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office’s fraud and public corruption unit.
Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.