Two D.C. men posing as Homeland Security agents ran such a convincing and elaborate scheme that they fooled four Secret Service agents, including one on the first lady’s detail, into accepting extravagant gifts like penthouse apartments, iPhones and pricey rifles, the feds allege.
Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 36, were arrested on Wednesday evening when FBI agents and United States Postal Service cops swarmed the plush Crossing Apartments in the capital’s Navy Yard neighborhood and charged them with false impersonation of a federal officer.
According to an unsealed affidavit filed in federal court, the pair have been posing as high-level DHS agents for more than two years, flashing official-looking IDs, carrying Glocks and driving black SUVs with emergency lights while living out of several luxury units at the Crossings and “ingratiating” themselves with federal law enforcement and defense officials, some of whom they lured to live in the same building.
In the course of the two men’s attempts to cozy up to real federal law enforcement officers, prosecutors say Taherzadeh paid particular attention to agents from the Secret Service, which became part of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.
In one instance, Taherzadeh tried to gift a member of first lady Jill Biden’s Secret Service protective detail a $2,000 assault rifle, and loaned out his “government vehicle” to the agent’s wife, the affidavit says.
Other Secret Service personnel received access to rent-free apartments worth $40,000 a year as well as “iPhones, surveillance systems, a drone, a flat screen television, a case for storing an assault rifle, a generator, and law enforcement paraphernalia,” the affidavit says.
Residents at the Crossings, including some of the ensnared Secret Service agents, have since told investigators that the complex appeared to be heavily surveilled by Taherzadeh. The agent on Jill Biden’s detail told the FBI that Taherzadeh “made it clear that he is the ‘go-to guy’” in the building. He also sent the agent photos of himself with vast amounts of police gear and a pic of him at a “training course” that the FBI says was actually a stock photo.
The courtship of Secret Service personnel had serious consequences. Following the revelation of Taherzadeh and Ali’s alleged fraud, “four members of the Secret Service were placed on administrative leave pending further investigation,” the FBI said.
In another disturbing sign of how convincing the two men’s alleged ruse was, Taherzadeh and Ali successfully conned an unnamed “applicant” to join a Homeland Security “task force” they’d invented. But their “recruitment process” included shooting the applicant with an airsoft rifle, supposedly to evaluate their pain tolerance, and having the applicant research an unnamed person who worked as a contractor for the Department of Defense and intelligence community.
The scheme allegedly fell apart in March when neighbors fingered the two men as federal law enforcement agents who may have witnessed an assault on a letter carrier at their apartment complex. When a U.S. Postal Service Inspector showed up to investigate, Taherzadeh and Ali allegedly said they were members of the nonexistent “U.S. Special Police Investigation Unit,” which they claimed to be a part of the Department of Homeland Security.
After the Postal Inspector learned that the two men had allegedly taken to driving around in a black GMC SUV equipped with emergency lights and palled around with actual Homeland Security officials at the Secret Service, the real federal law enforcement agent tipped off DHS’s Inspector General, which triggered the FBI investigation that led to the charges against Taherzadeh and Ali.