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Guns, drones, luxury apartments: Motive of accused police posers still unclear

Arian Taherzadeh and Haider Ali have been charged with impersonating federal law enforcement

Federal officials say this photo shows a rifle scope, tactical gear and storage equipment, clothing and patches with police insignia, handcuffs, breaching equipment and a cleaning kit for firearms from the apartment of Arian Taherzadeh. (Evidence photograph from Government's Memorandum in Support of Motion for Detention file in the US District Court for the District of Columbia)
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The two men swaggered around the building, residents recall, boasting of being federal agents as if they were another amenity at the Crossing, a luxury apartment complex on the District’s waterfront with a wellness center in its basement and an infinity pool on its roof.

Arian Taherzadeh, who worked alongside a man named Haider Ali, patrolled the lobby when unwanted guests wandered inside and, prosecutors and residents say, advertised that his important law enforcement job earned him free rent in the high rise home to high-powered D.C. lawyers, U.S. Secret Service agents and others connected to the military.

One day in January, when a resident posted a picture on the apartment Facebook page showing that a parking ticket machine in the garage had been smashed, Taherzadeh responded with seeming authority: “It was committed by a guest of a resident in the building. All parties are known.”

Taherzadeh, according to prosecutors, apparently gained access to the apartment building’s security system and kept a binder with names of occupants and their contact information.

But earlier this month, when FBI agents dressed in ballistic vests and armed with rifles streamed into building, residents of the Crossing began to realize they were living among alleged posers, not protectors. Prosecutors charged Taherzadeh and Ali with impersonating federal law enforcement and accused them of lavishing gifts on real agents who lived in the D.C. apartment building — including one officer assigned to protect the first lady. Authorities said they seized a stockpile of firearms, ammunition, police gear, surveillance equipment and identification cards after searching apartments Taherzadeh rented through a private security company.

Case of duped Secret Service agents called an alarming agency breach

Now, as the government investigates whether the men may have bribed members of the Secret Service who lived in the building and threatened national security, questions still remain over the motive behind the alleged ruse.

The Crossing, in messages to residents, say they “charged market-rate rents for all apartments” and never “requested, engaged, contracted, or paid either of those individuals to perform services of any kind at the building.” Representatives of the apartment complex repeatedly denied interview requests.

The Post interviewed several people who lived in buildings with Taherzadeh, both at the Crossing and another complex in D.C., and reviewed court documents outlining allegations against the two men. Residents spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared for their safety.

Taherzadeh, 40, and Ali, 35, have been on home detention after a federal judge released them earlier this month, saying that prosecutors “proffered zero evidence the defendants intended to infiltrate the Secret Service for a nefarious purpose, or even that they specifically targeted the Secret Service.”

Reached by phone April 19, Taherzadeh declined to comment, as did his attorney. In court documents, the attorneys deny a scheme to infiltrate the Secret Service as the government has alleged. In an interview, Ali’s lawyer Gregory Smith said “the facts haven’t matched the rhetoric so far.”

The Secret Service put four employees connected to the case on leave, though the FBI characterized them in court papers as witnesses who seemed to have been duped by a well-executed ploy.

As it turns out, according to court documents and interviews with those who previously lived in a building with Taherzadeh, the Secret Service was not the first who said they were fooled. Lawsuits assert that Taherzadeh through his companies had not paid rent at two other luxury apartment buildings in the District. A possible pattern of deception, it appears, was at least three years old.

‘We chased him for years’

It was the summer of 2020, the height of the pandemic, and two men were drinking on the roof of the Carver Apartments in Northwest Washington. The friends, who had met a few months prior, nursed vodka Red Bull and beer.

It seemed like a relatively standard night until Taherzadeh needed a refill and invited his friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity over safety concerns, down to his apartment. Inside, the friend said he saw rows of computer screens flashing live security footage from inside and outside their building. Rifles, pistols and tactical gear were stored in cases around the living room.

Taherzadeh had told the friend that he worked for the Department of Homeland Security and investigated gang violence, and the friend had noticed him walking around the building with a 9mm gun strapped to his waist. One night that summer, when racial justice protests following the police killing of George Floyd turned especially violent in the District, the friend said Taherzadeh stood atop the apartment in tactical gear with binoculars, apparently keeping an eye on the city.

The friend said the sheer extent of police and surveillance equipment in Taherzadeh’s apartment was staggering, but it didn’t surprise him. He said he left that night feeling like he had real insight into the life of a federal agent. He said he returned to Taherzadeh’s apartment later that summer and fired an air-soft pellet gun at the wall.

Men posing as DHS employees created potential national security risk, prosecutors say

The setup with police gear, security equipment and surveillance technology observed by the friend is similar to what FBI agents would later describe in a criminal affidavit charging Taherzadeh and Ali while they lived at the Crossing. The men were often seen in areas of both buildings at times they were supposed to be off limits to residents, according to those who lived in the apartment complexes.

Court records show Taherzadeh’s security company leased three apartments at the Carver starting in fall 2019. The company failed to pay rent on any of the units, according to a lawsuit filed in April 2020 by Carver’s management, and a judge ordered the company to pay more than $145,000 in back rent and fees and rent through the end of the contract.

In a statement, a lawyer for Carver’s management company said D.C.'s “restrictive regulations” prevented the complex from taking over apartments when rent was not paid, which “basically provided free housing to these people for over nine months.” No attorney was listed in court documents for the technology company or Taherzadeh.

Other lawsuits accused Taherzadeh’s companies of similar failed rent payments. Together, they paint a picture of a man who has left behind him a trail of creditors and lawyers, jumping from one apartment complex to another.

“We chased him for years,” attorney Thomas A. Mauro told The Washington Post shortly after the men were arrested. Mauro represents One Hill South, luxury apartments on the Southwest Washington waterfront, where Taherzadeh rented two penthouses in 2018 through a technology company he said he ran at the time. The residences together rented for slightly less than $10,000 per month.

Mauro said Taherzadeh presented himself as the company president and offered tax returns that showed a monthly income of $70,000. The complex owners said he failed to pay rent and sued him for more than $63,000 in payments. The case is still active.

By the time he left One Hill South, Taherzadeh was running a security company called USSP, which he often referred to as the United States Special Police. He used that name to rent apartments at the Carver, and then again a year later in 2020 at the Crossing, where he listed the United States Special Police as the occupant of at least one of the units, according to court filings. The owners of the Crossing in July 2021 took Taherzadeh’s company to court, saying it had failed to pay for apartments that ranged in rent from $2,300 to nearly $5,300 a month. The building owners won a nearly $223,000 judgment.

No attorney was entered for any of the defendants in the three lawsuits.

The United States Special Police has several different addresses and people on its board, according to leases and corporate records. In the Crossing lawsuit, the company is listed as occupying an office on Pennsylvania Avenue, six blocks from the White House and a brisk 10-minute walk to the State Department. But on an early April visit after the police raid, there was no apparent evidence of a United States Special Police office, and a receptionist said she’d never heard of the company.

The Crossing lease also lists a man named Kevin Fuller as associated with the United States Special Police. Prosecutors said in court documents that Ali referred to Fuller as his direct supervisor but Taherzadeh later admitted during questioning after his arrest that Fuller is a “false and fictitious person.”

‘Out of control’

As far back as 2018, D.C. police had concerns about the United States Special Police, according to prosecutors. When Taherzadeh applied to the District to register the company, the city government expressed worry that the name risked “conveying false authority” by appearing to be federal law enforcement.

They required that he use “USSP” instead, according to federal court documents.

A year later, the city denied his application to be an armed special police officer, prosecutors said, citing a prior domestic violence conviction in Virginia. D.C. police granted him a license as an unarmed special police officer — which is basically a security guard with arrest powers at designated properties, per D.C. police and court filings — in 2020.

Taherzadeh later admitted to law enforcement that his company’s name was an “embarrassing misrepresentation that got out of control,” according to court documents filed by his defense.

Man accused of posing as federal officer says actions were 'for friendship’

Ali’s attorney said Taherzadeh hired his client as an employee for the United States Special Police, which Ali believed contracted with the government. In letters to the federal judge, members of Ali’s family who reside in the region described him as a “devoted father” who is not “a danger to anyone.” Prosecutors were initially concerned about trips Ali had made overseas but later backed away from those allegations.

Prosecutors now fear the men used the company as part of a scheme to ingratiate themselves with real members of the U.S. Secret Service at the Crossing.

Inside the high rise on First Street, according to prosecutors, Taherzadeh carried a firearm, flashed a special police officer badge, snapped selfies in tactical equipment and even once was seen interacting with a D.C. police officer while wearing homeland security gear. He also grew close to real federal agents in the building, according to prosecutors, and began to offer them lavish gifts.

Taherzadeh, according to authorities, offered a Secret Service agent assigned to protection detail of first lady Jill Biden several items. He gave the agent a holster for a handgun, offered the use of an assault rifle worth $2,000, and once loaned the agent’s wife a purported government vehicle and gave her a generator, according to prosecutors.

Taherzadeh also befriended two agents assigned to protect the White House complex. Authorities said he gave one of them a drone, a gun locker and a rent-free apartment for a year worth more than $48,000 — saying Homeland Security Investigations had approved extra rooms as part of his operations. Prosecutors said he gave the other agent a penthouse apartment valued upward of $40,000 for about a year.

“It concerns us, the types of devices and favors that were given, and whether any may have been bribes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua S. Rothstein said in asking that the men remain jailed pending trial.

An amended affidavit released April 19 revealed more allegations against Taherzadeh and Ali. During their years at the Crossing, prosecutors said the self-advertised agents also recruited a Marine veteran to be “deputized” through D.C. police as a special police officer. Taherzadeh administered two urine tests and a fingerprint test, and Ali took him to a firearms range in Maryland as part of the “recruitment process,” according to prosecutors. The unnamed recruit went into D.C. police’s headquarters twice last summer — once upon instruction from Taherzadeh, and once accompanied by Ali — but did not appear to receive the license, according to the criminal affidavit.

Federal prosecutors said their alleged scheme was exposed in March in the simplest of ways. A postal inspector investigating an assault on a mail carrier at the building heard Taherzadeh and Ali had witnessed the attack and had been representing themselves to tenants as agents with the Department of Homeland Security.

He passed on the information to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, which referred it to the FBI. Soon enough, a squad of heavily armed federal agents interrupted afternoon coffee hour at the Crossing.

In their apartments, authorities said they found a cache of police equipment that included everything from handguns to a sledgehammer to police parking placards to a machine that creates and programs cards that can be used to access government facilities. Taherzadeh later turned in an assault rifle he said he stored in Virginia and registered in 2018.

Taherzadeh and Ali were arrested at a restaurant April 6.

Judge in D.C. orders release of men accused of posing as federal law enforcement

Weeks into the investigation, it remains unclear what, if anything, the men wanted from the federal agents in exchange for their gifts. Both have pleaded not guilty. Taherzadeh said he had “no intention of compromising any federal agent” and acted out of a “desire for friendship”; while Ali said he had gotten carried away in a scheme he did not fully understand and believed he was working for a legitimate security company, according to documents filed by their defense attorneys in federal court.

The Secret Service has downplayed any risk to national security, but several former Secret Service officials stressed that the alleged ruse reveals vulnerabilities among employees who are supposed to be trained to spot scammers or spies but instead were apparently tricked.

Crossing management, in emails to residents, said they have since enlisted the help of an advisory firm with expertise in national security to recommend enhancements to their protocols. By late April, law enforcement were still trying to determine whether the men had compromised any other federal officials, while prosecutors warned that they were “not merely playing dress-up.”

Some residents of the Crossing, meanwhile, are furious. They said in interviews and on internal messaging boards that they are worried about their personal security and are considering legal action against the Crossing. They sought luxury and safety, they said, and instead allegedly lived among fake agents with real guns.

Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

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