WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A judge said on Friday that he needs more information before he can determine whether to jail two men who are accused of impersonating U.S. law enforcement agents and supplying Secret Service personnel with gifts, including rent-free apartments.
“This is a complicated case. I’ve never seen one quite like it,” said Magistrate Judge Michael Harvey in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
At issue is whether to detain Washington men Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 35, who were arrested this week for impersonating special agents for the Department of Homeland Security.
They are also accused of supplying U.S. Secret Service agents with a variety of gifts – one of whom was assigned to protect President Joe Biden’s wife, college professor Jill Biden.
The case has already led to the suspension of four Secret Service agents, who were placed on leave on Monday pending further investigation.
Two agents were provided apartments that cost more than $4,000 a month, prosecutors said. One agent who was in charge of protecting Jill Biden was offered an assault rifle, according to a sworn statement by an FBI agent.
But at Friday’s hearing, the judge expressed frustration over the lack of answers to many of his questions about the defendants’ actions, such as how or even whether in fact they paid for the apartments and other gifts, and if they sought anything in return.
“I have not seen any evidence of any demands, extortion, and you’re not proffering any,” Harvey said.
In a search of five Washington apartments associated with the men, prosecutor Joshua Rothstein told the judge that the FBI found a variety of firearms, scopes, brass knuckles, surveillance equipment, hard drives, tools used to manufacture identities and tactical gear, which included vests, gas masks, police lights and other items with law enforcement insignia.
He said investigators had to use a moving truck to haul away the evidence they collected at the apartment complex, and that the FBI also found documents containing profiles on a variety of people – some of which were shredded and need to be taped back together.
“This is not just two people dressing up for Halloween, your honor. This is very serious,” Rothstein said.
He argued that both defendants pose a danger to the community.
Ali, he said, also poses a flight risk because he is apparently a dual citizen of Pakistan and the United States, has bragged about having ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and has traveled or sought authorization to travel in recent years to Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Egypt.
Taherzadeh, meanwhile, is accused of being in possession of firearms even though he has a prior conviction for domestic violence, and he was denied a concealed carry permit by Washington, D.C. authorities.
Rothstein added he should also be detained because he had tried to conceal evidence of his crimes by deleting certain social media posts.
Harvey, meanwhile, questioned whether it was reasonable for Taherzadeh to have some tactical gear on hand because he apparently ran a company called U.S. Special Police LLC.
Rothstein acknowledged that Taherzadeh at one point did in fact serve as a special police officer recognized by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) of Washington but the company no longer had that status.
“They don’t have any firearms registered to them, and their license is gone,” he said.
A spokesperson for the MPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The detention hearing is set to resume on Monday when attorneys for both men are expected to argue for their release.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Grant McCool)