Secret Service on the defensive over allegations that agents were duped by men impersonating the feds

By Whitney Wild, Priscilla Alvarez and David Shortell, CNN

A series of embarrassing security breaches involving two men accused of impersonating federal agents have put the Secret Service on the defensive and angered at least one senior national security official in DC, sources told CNN.

In a federal investigation that surfaced earlier this month after a dramatic daytime raid on a luxury apartment in Washington, the FBI alleges the two men tricked a number of Secret Service agents, including one assigned retail of the first lady, as part of a long- running scheme.

But the allegations also drew the ire of the top Department of Homeland Security official, who oversees the Secret Service.

Two people familiar with his thinking told CNN that Homeland Security Chief Alejandro Mayorkas felt the initial charges uncovered last week against the two men brought unfair scrutiny to the Secret Service. CNN contacted DHS for Mayorkas’ comments.

In court documents and hearings this month, federal prosecutors accused Arian Taherzadeh and Haider Ali of impersonating federal agents and lavishing gifts on law enforcement officers in an attempt to please themselves. . The raid uncovered a cache of weapons and tactical gear in five apartments rented by the two men.

The interactions between the two men and a number of Secret Service agents formed the bulk of an initial charging document drafted by an FBI agent and relied heavily on Secret Service witnesses. That document, an affidavit detailing the budding investigation, also included an unusual disclosure of the existence of an internal investigation of two Secret Service agents and two uniformed division officers about their dealings with the men.

But during a detention hearing last Tuesday, a federal judge told Justice Department prosecutors their arguments were “overblown,” arguing they had failed to establish the men’s gift was an attempt to obtain secrets from Secret Service agents, or that they posed a danger or flight risk.

Both sources familiar with Mayorkas’ thinking told CNN he was concerned about how the affidavit singled out the Secret Service because it created a false impression that could cause potential harm to the agency.

Both of these sources spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly about the matter.

Officials from a dozen other law enforcement agencies also reportedly interacted with the two men, a law enforcement official told CNN last week.

The FBI affidavit points out that a Secret Service witness told FBI agents that officials from other federal agencies may have received gifts from the men, but the case has so far centered on the role of secret service agents.

According to a Secret Service agent named as a witness in the complaint, Taherzadeh “provided gifts or favors to residents, many of whom were members of law enforcement, including the FBI, USSS, or DHS, or employees of government agencies, including the Department of Defense and the Navy.

An internal Secret Service review into the case has so far found no evidence that sensitive digital records were breached or passed to Taherzadeh or Ali, or that either of the two men physically entered. in secure locations, a Secret Service spokesman said last week.

“The United States Secret Service takes this matter very seriously and is conducting a thorough and methodical review of all aspects of this incident. Although this is an ongoing investigation, we have found no evidence of negative security impacts or improper access to sensitive protected information, systems or locations at this time. We continue to work closely with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office on the criminal investigation and prosecution of defendants,” the spokesperson said.

Analyze the arguments of the prosecutors

In court last week, Investigating Judge G. Michael Harvey authorized the release of the defendants ahead of trial, rejecting government arguments that they were dangerous and a flight risk.

The government has ‘not shown that national security information was in fact compromised’, or that ‘other sensitive information was in fact compromised, or that it was the defendants’ intent in giving the agents the gifts federal in the first place,” says Harvey.

Rather, the evidence presented so far suggested that “the defendants’ impersonation of federal officers was, as Mr. Ali said in his (FBI) interview, that they “just wanted to feel at home.” same level “with real federal agents”, Harvey mentioned.

The FBI declined to comment on the case to CNN.

A former law enforcement official defended the FBI’s tactics, saying they were likely only including evidence they had at the time of making an arrest.

“They’re thinking about getting these guys off the streets,” the former official told CNN.

The Justice Department mounted the case quickly – reportedly in less than three weeks after a random interaction with a postal service inspector put the two men on law enforcement’s radar, the complaint says. .

In recent days, investigators have continued to seek information about Taherzadeh and Ali during interviews with neighbors in Crossing, the high-rise where the two lived, according to a resident who spoke to CNN.

Weaving Questions

Several important questions still hang over the case – including how the couple amassed a cache of weapons and tactical gear found in their apartments and what they hoped to gain by befriending real law enforcement officers. living order in their building.

In court, Harvey pointed to a default judgment rendered by the apartment complex against Taherzadeh for more than $220,000 in unpaid rent.

A CNN review of past lawsuits involving the couple and interviews with people who knew Taherzadeh shows a pattern of unpromised payments and other failed ventures.

In August 2021, a property management company for another high-end apartment building in the same Washington neighborhood sued Taherzadeh and another man, accusing them of falsifying their income and never paying rent on penthouse apartments. .

According to the filing, Taherzadeh applied for an apartment in 2018 and claimed to earn around $70,000 a month in salary.

But his rent checks were never cashed.

“He was just a typical debtor who didn’t pay his bills, who racked up bills and walked away from them,” Thomas Mauro, an attorney representing the building’s management company, told CNN.

In 2017, the two defendants were arguing in court over money. Court records show Ali sued Taherzadeh and his web hosting company AET Holdings for $10 million after Ali claimed to have loaned Taherzadeh $1 million and never been repaid.

The case, which was thin on details, was eventually dismissed after Ali failed to serve his complaint.

The following year, another former AET Holdings employee, Moses Kamai, won a nearly $300,000 judgment against Taherzadeh for unpaid wages and other expenses, although he claims Taherzadeh never paid the judgment. .

The company, according to Kamai, failed to win contracts due to Taherzadeh’s mismanagement.

“We missed a few proposal deadlines because he wouldn’t sign any papers,” Kamai said.

In Crossing, many residents directed their anger and anxiety at building management after the prosecution learned that the men had access to the building’s security cameras and a list of apartment occupants. , two people who live there told CNN.

“It looks like a betrayal,” said one of the residents.

Building management did not respond to requests for comment, but in recent days told residents it was conducting a security audit.

Now in house arrest under the supervision of relatives, the two men will not be allowed to return to the building, management also told residents.

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