Hearing continues for 2 charged with impersonating federal agents

The prosecution — and, for the first time, the defense — weighed in Monday on the case of two men accused of impersonating federal officers in D.C.

Judge G. Michael Harvey continued the hearing on whether Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 35, should continue to be held until their trial. He started the hearing by saying he wouldn’t make a decision Monday; he’ll make his decision Tuesday at 4 p.m.

The two men were arrested last week at the tail end of the investigation of an alleged assault on a postal worker March 14. When a U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigator began looking into the reported assault, prosecutors said, they learned that the two had been representing themselves as officers of the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations unit.

Prosecutors have argued, and argued again Monday, that the pair should be held until their trial, given that they had a large number of guns in the apartments they controlled at the Crossing on First Street apartment building, in the Navy Yard neighborhood; that Taherzadeh admitted deleting social media posts after he learned that law enforcement was investigating them, and that Ali had told someone that he had ties with Pakistani intelligence.

“When the only tool you have is a hammer,” said Taherzadeh’s lawyer, public defender Michelle Peterson, “everything looks like a nail.”

Peterson reiterated what she said in her filings earlier in the day: Taherzadeh is only charged with falsely impersonating an officer, and that doesn’t require pretrial detention.

“I understand that the government can bring other charges,” Peterson said. “But they have not.”

She said that the fact that Taherzadeh sat for a 5.5-hour interview after his arrest, during which he gave the passcode for his cellphone, makes the notion that he’s obstructing justice “laughable. He has assisted them throughout.”

Peterson added that Taherzadeh posed no danger to the community: the chance that he will try to impersonate an officer are essentially zero, given the publicity the case has attracted.

Harvey pointed out that Taherzadeh was prohibited from owning a gun in light of his misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence; Peterson replied that even being a felon in possession of a gun is not a crime that requires pretrial detention, and the fact that he was granted a permit for a gun – though he was denied a concealed-carry permit – indicated that he thought he was entitled to own it.

Ali’s lawyer, Gregory Smith, said the government was “out over its skis,” and called the notion that Ali might be an agent of Pakistani intelligence an “elaborate conspiracy theory that they’ve been spinning to the press” that was “utterly false and preposterous.”

“How’s my client going to get over this?,” Smith said.

He pointed out that Ali faces a maximum sentence of three years, and that, as a first-time offender, he would likely be sentenced to no more than six months if he’s convicted, and could get no jail time at all. Indeed, Smith said, Ali could be held in pretrial detention longer than he would spend in jail.

Taherzadeh’s father, Masoud Taherzadeh, of Virginia, told the judge that he would take Taherzadeh in if he’s released before trial.

Harvey asked Masoud Taherzadeh whether anyone would be home during the day if Taherzadeh were released to his custody. He replied that he would ask to work remotely if it came to that, but if necessary, “I will quit my job. I will stay home,” he said, breaking into tears.

More documents

In documents filed over the weekend, prosecutors said, “with every new fact uncovered” in their investigation, “the story only gets worse.”

While the prosecutors had said in Friday’s hearing that Taherzadeh had worked as a Special Police Officer for the D.C. police, they said in a document filed Sunday that that was not the case. They added that some of the magazines found with the guns in their apartments were illegal high-capacity magazines.

They added that Taherzadeh had to change his company’s name, because it was originally called United States Special Police. D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs made him change it because “that name risked confusing the LLC with federal law enforcement and conveying false authority.” Taherzadeh changed it to USSP.

Peterson said in her filing the entire affair was “an embarrassing misrepresentation that got out of control” and included a summary of an interview with a postal inspector from March 21 in which Taherzadeh was asked whether he was a DHS special agent. He replied, “no.”

When told that Ali had said he was, Taherzadeh said he had “no idea” why that would be.

Ali’s lawyer, Gregory Smith, on Monday said in a document that Ali told the postal inspector that USSP was part of DHS, but not that he himself was a federal worker. When informed that USSP was not a government agency or contractor, he texted the inspector that he “basically lied” because he “just wanted to feel like I was on the same level with you guys and I have realized my mistake, that’s really stupid of me.” He offered to turn himself in, the document said, but instead “was arrested without warning.”

Smith also said that the government was engaged in “speculation” about the nature of the pair’s alleged scheme and “reckless innuendo about how this case somehow involves a threat to national security.” They added that, while the prosecutors are claiming that recent travel to Pakistan and Iran makes Ali a flight risk, they don’t know whether he had any contacts in Pakistan, nor whether he got any money from them.

Smith also argued that most of the bad acts the government is charging the two with were allegedly carried out by Taherzadeh only. The apartment described as “controlled by Ali” in the prosecutors’ filing contained only “laptops, flash drives, a USSP badge and police lights that can be installed in a vehicle.”

Peterson said Taherzadeh didn’t have the money to flee: While the pair controlled five apartments, the lawyer argued, “the rent on the apartments was not paid by anyone.” In January, the landlord of the Crossing building won a $222,000 judgment.

Four Secret Service officers have been placed on leave in the wake of the investigation.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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