US hasn’t proven national security information was compromised in case of men accused of impersonating cops to befriend Secret Service agents, judge says

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered two men accused of posing as federal law enforcement released pending trial, ending a days-long detention hearing that unearthed details about an alleged ruse to befriend federal officers from a swanky apartment complex in DC

“The federal government has proffered zero evidence the defendants intended to infiltrate the Secret Service for a nefarious purpose, or even that they specifically targeted the Secret Service,” said US Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey. “At this point, there has been no showing that national security information was in fact compromised.”

Harvey released the men to each of their fathers under high-intensity supervision and ordered that they stay away from their former apartment building, all airports and embassies, and each other.

Explaining his decision, the judge said the men had been cooperating with the FBI, had limited criminal history and were not at serious risk of flight, referring to their local family ties. He also cited the relatively modest sentencing guidelines that come with the charges to explain his decision to avoid detention.

Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 35, each face charges of impersonating federal law enforcement. If convicted as charged, they could face up to three years in prison, but more typically zero to six months in jail under federal guidelines.

The men will not be released until 9 am Wednesday, giving the government time to consider requesting an appeal.

Case of duped Secret Service agents called an alarming agency breach

Earlier Tuesday, US Attorney Joshua S. Rothstein said for the first time that his office is “investigating whether or not any bribery occurred.” He said the men could have compromised agents who protected first lady Jill Biden and the White House.

Rothstein also said that the men befriended not just Secret Service agents and officers but other federal law enforcement and defense personnel, including another Department of Homeland Security employee, a Navy intelligence officer and a former Marine who said he was recruited by them to join their business . The men’s conduct was so unusual that the DHS employee double-checked an agency directory, and the Navy officer reported the contact to NCIS.

“We had agents going door to door in their apartment building trying to figure out what the extent of the compromise is,” Rothstein said. “That tells you the extent of the seriousness the government is taking this with.”

Defense attorneys previously argued that it would be unfair to jail the pair pending trial given the charges and asked for them to be released to their parents in Virginia under electronic monitoring and high-intensity supervision. Prosecutors, who said they could add a charge of conspiracy, asked the judge to order the defendants to remain held and said they had created “a potential risk to national security.”

Man accused of posing as federal officer says actions were ‘for friendship’

The alleged scheme began to unravel in mid-March when a US postal inspector was investigating an unrelated assault on a mail carrier in their apartment building and asked the men about their employment and credentials. The postal inspector reported the pair to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General later that month, which referred the case to the FBI for investigation.

In the internal investigation, a Secret Service employee contacted Taherzadeh’s company by email and informed him that the agency was conducting “some sort of review.” That correspondence tipped off the defendant, Rothstein said, and spurred the FBI to act quickly. They arrested the men at a restaurant at lunchtime on April 6 while they were meeting with an attorney.

That day, the FBI also searched their luxury apartment building in the Navy Yard area and found a stash of police weapons, access codes to federal agents’ homes, and equipment to create personal identification verification cards that if programmed correctly can be used to access sensitive law enforcement computers. Prosecutors have also accused Taherzadeh and Ali of obtaining private information from residents of the Crossing, their apartment building.

On Tuesday, Harvey characterized the defendants’ possession of residents’ information as “privacy harms, which are unfortunately and regularly endured by victims of fraud or white-collar cases where pretrial detention is a rarity.”

Taherzadeh’s defense attorney said in court documents that the defendant had “no intention of compromising any federal agent” and acted out of a “desire for friendship.” Ali’s lawyer shifted the blame to Taherzadeh and said his client “may well have naively but genuinely believed” that Taherzadeh was a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations.

Prosecutors previously said Ali posed a flight risk because of his past travel and an unsubstantiated claim to one witness that he had ties to the Pakistani intelligence service. On Tuesday, the assistant US attorney backed off those allegations, saying “we are investigating a statement he made — that is it.”

“I, for one, do not find reliable Mr. Ali’s alleged statement that he has ties to the Pakistani intelligence service,” Harvey said Tuesday. “The whole theory of the case is that he is not to be trusted when he asserts who he works for.”

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