One of two men criminally charged with impersonating Department of Homeland Security agents may himself have been duped, along with several Secret Service agents, into believing his co-defendant actually was a DHS agent, a defense lawyer said in a court filing Monday.
“The weight of the evidence against Mr. [Haider] Ali is not strong,” Ali’s lawyer wrote in the filing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
“It is far from clear that Mr. Ali ever represented himself as a federal government officer or employee, or that any such statements were known by him to be false,” the lawyer, Gregory Smith, wrote.
Smith’s filing says that a review of Ali’s multiple interviews with a U.S. postal inspector last month “suggests that Mr. Ali may well have naively but genuinely believed” that his co-defendant, Arian Taherzadeh, was a Homeland Security Investigations special agent, “and that the work he did for Taherzadeh’s company (USSP) possibly included work that company got from DHS.”
The filing for Ali, 35, came ahead of a detention hearing for Ali and Taherzadeh scheduled to resume in court later Monday. The men were arrested last week.
Prosecutors want both men, who remain in jail, held without bail, calling them a danger to the community.
But lawyers for the defendants in filings Monday asked a judge to release them on bail, saying prosecutors are overstating the seriousness of the case.
Ali’s lawyer said he has four very young children and is “badly needed back at home since his wife underwent surgery just this past Friday.”
The attorney also noted that even if Ali were convicted of the Class E felony he faces, federal sentencing guidelines would likely recommend a sentence of just zero to six months in prison. He would also be eligible for a probationary sentence, the lawyer added.
Prosecutors said that since the arrest of the men last week — amid claims they lavished gifts on Secret Service agents and provided two such agents with free apartments that normally rent for up to $48,000 per year — “the story only gets worse” as investigators turn up additional evidence.
“Because of the breakneck pace of the investigation, there are many facts that we still do not
know,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing Sunday.
“But the facts that we do know about the Defendants–that they lied about their identities for years, stored a cache of weapons and surveillance equipment in their apartments, compromised law enforcement agents in sensitive positions, and tried to cover up their crimes — leave no doubt that their release poses a public safety risk. Both Defendants should be detained.”
The Secret Service agents who protected first lady Jill Biden and the White House were among those duped by the men’s purported lies about being DHS agents.
The defendants also had access codes that could allow them to enter all of the hundreds of apartments in the Washington D.C. Navy Yard-area residential complex where they maintain five apartments, prosecutors said. Actual law-enforcement agents occupy a number of those apartments.
And prosecutors have said Ali allegedly told witnesses in the case that he had connections to ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency.
Four Secret Service agents have been placed on leave as a result of the case.
Taherzadeh’s lawyer Michelle Peterson, in a filing Monday seeking his release on bail, said, “The government’s speculative assertions and rhetorical flourishes aside, there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that Mr. Taherzadeh would be either a risk of obstruction of justice or a danger to the community if he were released.”
“The government has failed to demonstrate that this is a detainable offense in the first instance or, even it is, that there are no conditions of release that can be fashioned that would reasonably assure the safety of the community,” Peterson wrote.
The investigation of Ali and the 40-year-old Taherzadeh began last month when a U.S. postal inspector questioned them in connection with the assault of a mail carrier at their Washington apartment building, which they were believed to have witnessed.
The postal inspector had been told that the men were DHS agents, and represented themselves as agents to other residents.
In his initial interview on March 16, Ali told the inspector, “I’m an investigator with the USSP Special Investigations Unit, part of DHS,” Ali’s lawyer Smith wrote in Monday’s court filing.
USSP is United States Special Police, a company owned by Taherzadeh. It is neither an official law enforcement agency nor a part of the Department of Homeland Security.
In a March 21 follow-up interview, the inspector asked Ali if USSP is part of DHS. He responded, “As I understand it. We do investigations for DHS.”
After the inspector told him USSP was not part of DHS, Ali replied that “he had been speaking ‘to the best of my own knowledge.'”
Later that day, Ali was asked why he described Taherzadeh as a special agent for the DHS’s Homeland Security Investigations unit.
“He is HSI,” Ali told the postal inspector.
When the inspector told Ali that Taherzadeh was not in a fact an HSI agent, Ali replied, “I understand him to be HSI. He is conducting large investigations in DC.”
The attorney Smith wrote, “And why shouldn’t Mr. Ali have believed Taherzadeh?”
The lawyer noted that prosecutors have said that “many experienced law enforcement agents … fell for this ruse.”
“If all of those experienced federal agents, with their years or even decades of experience, did not see through Taherzadeh’s claims, why is it fair to expect more from Mr. Ali, a high school graduate with no college degree and none of their formalized training?” Smith asked in the filing.
Prosecutors in a filing Sunday suggested more serious allegations against Ali and Taherzadeh could surface.
“Within the last day, the Government has confirmed more troubling facts: the ammunition magazines seized from Ali’s Glock 19 and Taherzadeh’s Sig Sauer were illegal, high-capacity magazines; and, after Taherzadeh was tipped off about the investigation, either he or Ali appears to have made further attempts to conceal evidence, including by trying to corruptly enlist the help of a federal law enforcement agent,” prosecutors wrote.
That filing said a former U.S. Marine came forward in recent days to tell investigators that the duo tried to recruit him based on their false DHS credentials. He also said he had seen illegal weapons in Taherzadeh and Ali’s presence, including an AR-15/M4 variant automatic rifle with an illegal suppressor.
Neither of the men had a license to carry a firearm outside of their homes, the filing said.
Court filings show that Tishman Speyer, the real estate giant which owns the apartment complex where the defendants maintained their five apartments, in January won a default judgment for more than $222,000 in unpaid rent for those five apartments.
The default judgment was against United States Special Police, Taherzadeh’s company, which never paid any rent for the apartments after leasing them in late 2020, according to a lawsuit.