The two men arrested last week for impersonating Homeland Security officers and allegedly gaining access to security cameras in an apartment building that housed multiple federal law enforcement employees will remain in custody as a federal judge continues to consider whether they should be released pending trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey held the second day of a detention hearing for Arian Taherzadeh and Haider Ali, who were arrested Wednesday following a late-afternoon raid of a Washington, D.C. apartment building.
According to prosecutors, Taherzadeh and Ali posed as Homeland Security agents for years, using their false identities to get close to actual law enforcement officials, including a Secret Service agent assigned to the detail of First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. They allegedly offered gifts to residents, many of whom work for federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the Navy.
Taherzadeh and Ali also allegedly gained access to the security system for the entire apartment complex.
“When the Only Tool You Have Is a Hammer, Everything Is a Nail.”
Taherzadeh’s attorney Michelle Peterson said Monday that the government is overreaching in its allegations against her client.
“When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything is a nail,” Peterson said.
Peterson specifically addressed the allegations that Taherzadeh tried to unload evidence after having been “tipped off” as to his forthcoming arrest.
“At some point after Taherzadeh was informed of the Government’s investigation last Tuesday, it appears that he and/or Ali tried to conceal evidence of their crimes by shipping it out of their apartment complex,” an FBI brief filed Sunday said. “During the execution of the search warrant, in Penthouse 5, law enforcement discovered shipping materials and UPS labels which raised concern that evidence was being secreted from the premises. These concerns proved true. On Thursday, April 7, 2022, a USSS Uniformed Division Officer referenced in the complaint and assigned to the White House, Witness 3, received a package sent via UPS Next Day Air. The return address on the label was ‘USSP’ and corresponded to Ali and Taherzadeh’s apartment complex.”
According to prosecutors, that package contained cigars and firearm cases, although not cases that matched any of the firearms seized during the arrest.
A supplemental filing from the government clarified that the items in the package belonged to the witness.
“When Witness 3 learned for the first time from the FBI what the box had contained, he stated that the firearms cases and cigars might have been items that he had left behind in Penthouse 5,” the government’s filing said. “Accordingly, to confirm whether the cases belonged to Witness 3, FBI agents met Witness 3 at his apartment late this evening as soon as he returned from out-of-state travel and examined Witness 3’s firearms. The three firearms cases that were mailed to Witness 3 last week correspond to three firearms that Witness 3 owns.”
Peterson called the government’s supplemental filing a “recantation” and said that Taherzadeh was simply returning the items to its rightful owner.
Prosecutor Joshua Rothstein countered that that Taherzadeh’s timing in returning the items is further evidence of obstruction, as the witness told investigators that he had met with Taherzadeh on a weekly basis for dinner, but “not once did [Taherzadeh] ever return the firearm case. It was only the day after he was contacted inadvertently and tipped off.”
Taherzadeh’s father, Masoud Taherzadeh, pleaded with Harvey to release his son into his custody, saying that he would quit his job working for a granite and marble company in Virginia in order to make sure Taherzadeh didn’t violate any pretrial release conditions.
“I work and my wife works, but if you were kind enough and release him to my custody I will quit my job,” the father said. “I will stay at home.”
“They Have Been Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill.”
Ali’s attorney, Gregory Smith, also voiced alarm as to the government’s approach to this case.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, more than 35 years, more than 30 years in federal criminal defense,” Smith said. There have been times in my career where I’ve seen the government get out over its skis. This is such the case.”
Smith said that while it can be “embarrassing” for the government to “dial it back,” it’s worse in a case such as this, where he says the government has “dialed up” the general public’s expectations.
“Sure, it may be difficult to publicly admit that the facts simply haven’t validated their theories,” Smith said. However, he added, the “real” impersonation is this case “impersonating a national security threat, and impersonating my client as a Pakistani intelligence contact.”
Smith said that such allegations are “utterly false, preposterous.”
He noted that his client is a high school graduate, deemed to be indigent and unable to afford his own attorney.
“There’s no Pakistani operative coming in and finding him retained counsel,” Smith said, adding that the high-profile arrest of his client will follow him “for the rest of his life.”
Smith also said that he has been contacted by the Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America, and other media organizations who are “spinning up a media frenzy,” and added that “the reality is that they have been making a mountain out of a molehill.”
Smith scoffed at the idea that Ali is a flight risk, noting that Ali has a wife and four children in the U.S., and has only visited Pakistan a handful of times.
The idea that Ali would “go overseas to avoid a 3-year felony offense borders on ridiculous,” Smith said.
Harvey did not reach a decision during the late-afternoon hearing on Monday, and called the parties back for a hearing Tuesday at 11:00 a.m.
[Images via FBI court filings.]
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