Man posed as DHS worker, claimed ties to Pakistani intelligence, prosecutor says

The Crossing is a luxury apartment building in Washington, D.C., where two residents were charged with impersonating federal law enforcement. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Emily Davies

WASHINGTON – One of two men accused of posing as federal law enforcement employees and ingratiating themselves with Secret Service agents had visas for travel to Iran and Pakistan, and told others that he had ties to Pakistan’s intelligence service, a federal prosecutor alleged Thursday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Rothstein said the government wanted Haider Ali and Arian Taherzadeh – who were arrested Wednesday on charges of impersonating federal law enforcement, specifically with the Department of Homeland Security – held in jail while they await trial, alleging that they posed a flight risk and possessed firearms.

Taherzadeh, 40, and Ali, 35, were charged in what prosecutors described as a ruse that started in February 2020 and ended only after a postal inspector came across the pair in an unrelated case. Federal law enforcement officials did not say what motivated the men or what they wanted in return as they, according to prosecutors, “ingratiated themselves with and infiltrated” Secret Service agents and DHS personnel who lived in their D.C. apartment building. So far, the men are charged only with “false impersonation of a federal officer,” though Rothstein said Thursday that the government would probably add a charge of “conspiracy.”

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“We have not verified the accuracy of his claims, but Mr. Ali made claims to witnesses he had ties to ISI, which is the Pakistani intelligence service,” Rothstein said.

The Embassy of Pakistan did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ali had three visas for travel to Pakistan and two for travel to Iran, Rothstein said. The Iran visas were from July 2019 to January 2020, the month before his charged conduct began, Rothstein alleged. The prosecutor said that it appeared that Ali entered Iran once, and that his visas to Pakistan were older. The men are U.S. citizens, the prosecutor said.

According to an FBI agent’s affidavit in the case, 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 it was not entirely clear what, if anything, they wanted in return.

In court, Rothstein said Wednesday’s search of five units in the building – including ones occupied by each defendant – recovered Glock and Sig Sauer pistols; DHS patches, vests and training manuals; binoculars; “sniper-spotting equipment”; and a binder listing the names and addresses of building occupants.

The Secret Service put on leave four employees connected to the case, though the bureau characterized them in court papers as witnesses who seemed to have been duped by a well-executed ploy. In a statement, a spokesman said the agency was working with the Justice Department on the investigation and added, “All personnel involved in this matter are on administrative leave and are restricted from accessing Secret Service facilities, equipment and systems.”

Where the men got their money – and how much they actually had – was unclear. Taherzadeh, in particular, seemed to have racked up significant unpaid debts. Court records show he was sued frequently and chased by collection agencies over the past two decades – in Missouri and the D.C. area – for unpaid rent and other bills, and his creditors often had trouble tracking him down to press their allegations.

The men’s latest residence – a luxury apartment complex known as the Crossing, a swanky building near the Navy Yard Metro station with faux ivy behind the front desk and a rooftop infinity pool – seemed to be a focal point of their scheme. The men controlled several apartments – which they told residents were being paid for by the Department of Homeland Security – and seemed to have unusual privileges, according to the affidavit. Taherzadeh told a Secret Service agent assigned to the first lady’s detail, for example, that he was the “go-to guy” if a resident needed anything, and showed the agent “security footage from various areas of the apartment complex, indicating that he had gained access to the security system for the entire apartment complex,” according to the affidavit.

The FBI raided the building Wednesday – alarming residents, though some had been suspicious of their neighbors.

“It was just shocking,” said Paige Spraker, a 27-year-old Crossing resident who emerged with her corgi, Luna.

The Crossing gives discounts in rent to federal employees, some residents said, which can help explain the highly educated and politically oriented composition of its occupants.

One woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for safety, said she first saw Taherzadeh in December 2020. The two first talked at the apartment’s rooftop pool last summer, she said, when Taherzadeh told her he worked for “special police” on a drug task force against gang violence “over the river,” which she assumed meant in Anacostia.

The woman also said she saw Taherzadeh would often use his status as a “special police” officer to go into parts of the apartment complex when they were closed, like the pool and hot tub.

The company that manages the building declined to comment but in a message to residents said staff “fully cooperated with the investigation” Wednesday.

A review of court records connected to Taherzadeh seem to depict a man in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and repeatedly finding himself on the run from creditors. He previously lived in Missouri, where more than two decades ago he was involved in a car crash that killed a 17-year-old girl, court records show.

Lawyer Thomas A. Mauro said he has been after Taherzadeh for years as part of two lawsuits, filed in 2016 and 2021.

One client, Moses Kamai, was hired by a purported security company with government contracts that Taherzadeh ran, then called AET Holdings, according to Mauro and one of the lawsuits. According to Mauro and that lawsuit he filed, Kamai was supposed to be paid $191,000 a year building lines of potential clients.

In a brief interview with The Washington Post, Kamai said he worked for the company for three months starting in December 2015 and never received any of his pay, which his lawsuit put at about $35,000 before he left. He sued in 2016 and won a judgment for $290,000 against Taherzadeh and AET, which included back pay, expenses that were not reimbursed and interest.

“We chased him for years,” Mauro said, describing Taherzadeh as “going from one luxury building to another.”

In 2021, Mauro said he represented a different client going after Taherzadeh: the owners of an apartment on K Street in Southeast Washington, around the corner from the Crossing.

Mauro said Taherzadeh and another man presented the leasing agent with tax returns that showed them making “tons of money,” which ultimately convinced apartment officials to rent them the penthouse units – one listed at $6,221 a month, the other for $4,165 a month. According to a lawsuit, the men listed a company, Bethesda, Md.-based AEH Solutions, as the payee, claiming Taherzadeh was the president and made $70,000 a month. They also claimed the other man was the vice president and made $62,000 a month, Mauro said.

But the checks the men gave bounced, according to the lawsuit, which seeks $63,000 from the pair, as well as $100,000 in punitive damages.

“They each knowingly abandoned the apartments when they knew their fraudulent scheme ran its course,” Mauro said in the lawsuit.

Ali, who also was arrested in the case, has also had business issues over the years, according to court documents and an interview with one man whom he crossed paths with in Springfield, Va.

As late as 2020, according to the records, he claimed to have run a limo company with an office at one of the most prestigious addresses in the District – at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, one block from the White House – though no evidence could be found that the company was ever there. Over the years, he sued several people who he claimed were clients or otherwise had business with him.

In 2017, for example, court records show Ali sued a Springfield limo driver named Masrur Anwar, who told The Post that Ali had hired him a few times to pick up clients at an airport. Anwar said he and Ali had argued over money – but that Ali was unaware of the lawsuit, which sought $150,000 yet was dismissed before it was ever served on Ali.

In another case, Ali sued his own company, AET Holding, and an executive whom The Post was unable to locate. Ali alleged in court filings that he was not paid $150,000 and that the executive had stiffed him on a $1 million loan – though that case, too, was dismissed.

By the FBI’s telling, the men’s ruse was not unconvincing. One witness, a uniformed Secret Service agent assigned to protect the White House Complex, said they saw Taherzadeh use a Private Identity Verification card to access a laptop labeled with a DHS symbol, and a federal privacy notice appeared when Taherzadeh went to log in. Another witness, the agent on the first lady’s detail, described how Taherzadeh had displayed a particular gun, a type of Glock, just as their own agency was beginning to equip people with that weapon, according to court documents.

But their behavior was also at times bizarre. According to the affidavit, the men convinced a person who wanted a job at DHS that as part of the “recruiting process,” they would have to be shot with an Airsoft rifle to evaluate their pain tolerance and reaction. The person agreed, and Taherzadeh shot them, according to the affidavit.

(This article appeared in Syndicated Service April 7, 2022)

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