Two men posing as Department of Homeland Security agents in Washington duped several Secret Service members, offering them tens of thousands of dollars in gifts, including rent-free apartments, federal prosecutors said. The men were scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday.
Four members of the Secret Service, the agency tasked with protecting the president and the president’s family, have been placed on administrative leave while the case is investigated, according to an affidavit filed in federal court for the District of Columbia.
One of the men, Arian Taherzadeh, offered to buy a $2,000 assault rifle for an agent assigned to Jill Biden’s protective detail, according to the affidavit, which was filed Tuesday.
Mr. Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 35, were charged with one count of impersonating a United States officer, according to the affidavit. The FBI arrested them Wednesday in southeast Washington. The two-year program began in February 2020 and recently collapsed, according to the affidavit.
“Taherzadeh and Ali attempted to use their false and fraudulent affiliation with DHS to ingratiate themselves with members of federal law enforcement and the defense community,” wrote David Elias, an FBI special agent. , in the affidavit.
Mr. Elias did not say why the men impersonated. Federal prosecutors and the FBI declined to suggest a motive or other information about the two men.
It was not immediately clear if they had attorneys.
Mr. Taherzadeh provided Secret Service members and a Homeland Security employee with free apartments, iPhones, surveillance systems, a drone, a flat-screen TV, a case to store an assault rifle and a generator, according to the affidavit.
Mr Taherzadeh also offered them what he described as “official government vehicles”.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. Michael LaRosa, a spokesman for Dr Biden, referred the questions to the Secret Service.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the agency said it was working with investigators and that employees involved in the case had been blocked “from accessing Secret Service facilities, equipment and systems.”
“The Secret Service adheres to the highest professional standards and conduct and will remain in active coordination with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security,” spokesman Kang Lee said.
It was not the first time that the conduct of Secret Service members had drawn close scrutiny from the agency. In 2012, several agents resigned or faced dismissal after revelations that they had engaged in misconduct while protecting President Barack Obama during an overseas trip to Colombia, including meetings with prostitutes.
The investigation into Mr. Taherzadeh and Mr. Ali began after a United States Postal Service mail carrier was assaulted in March at an apartment complex where the men lived. A U.S. postal inspector traveled to the compound to interview witnesses, including the two men.
The men told the inspector they were investigators from the US Police Special Investigative Unit, according to the affidavit. They said they were part of an undercover investigation into gang-related activity as well as an investigation into the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
Other residents of the building told the inspector that the men had identified themselves as Homeland Security special agents, that they were using other apartments in the building and that they were driving in an SUV black outfitted with emergency lights that they described as an official Homeland Security agent. vehicle.
Residents said Mr. Taherzadeh and Mr. Ali placed various surveillance equipment around the building and told residents they had access to their cellphones and personal information, according to the affidavit. Why they told the residents this was unclear.
The inspector also learned that Mr. Taherzadeh and Mr. Ali were in regular contact with several members of the Secret Service who lived in the same building and that these men had given them gifts, Mr. Elias wrote.
The inspector reported the information to the Inspector General’s Office of Homeland Security, who referred the matter to the FBI.
A witness told investigators that he was recruited by Mr. Taherzadeh and Mr. Ali to be an internal security employee and part of a task force. As part of the recruitment process, the men shot the witness with an Airsoft rifle “to assess his pain tolerance and reaction,” Elias wrote.
The men told the witness, who was not identified in the affidavit, that they were to conduct research “on an individual who provided support to the Department of Defense and the intelligence community”, according to the report. affidavit.
Mr. Taherzadeh often wore a Glock 19, Mr. Elias wrote.
He sent a Secret Service agent pictures of himself in tactical gear with the word “police” on it. In another photo, he posed in front of a pile of large cases often used to carry firearms. He also sent an agent a photo he said showed a training session for Homeland Security investigations.
“Investigation has revealed that the photo sent by Taherzadeh is a stock photo from the internet,” Elias wrote. There is no record that he ever participated in such training, he said in the affidavit.
Mr. Taherzadeh told a member of the Secret Service that he worked in a Homeland Security gang unit and had credentials for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to the affidavit.
For about a year, he provided the employee with a rent-free penthouse apartment that allegedly cost $40,200, according to the affidavit.
“Although Mr. Taherzadeh was very candid about his work,” Mr. Elias wrote, “he claimed he was part of a secret working group.”