WASHINGTON — The two men who were arrested by the FBI and charged with impersonating Department of Homeland Security agents made their first appearance in federal court Thursday afternoon.
Prosecutors argued that Arian Taherzadeh, 40, and Haider Ali, 35, of Washington, D.C., are a flight risk and a danger to the community and should therefore be detained until their trial.
Both men, who convinced real government officials that their fake employment was legitimate, face charges that they falsely impersonated federal agents as a way to ingratiate themselves with the U.S. law enforcement and the defense community dating back to February 2020, according to court documents.
Neither Taherzadeh nor Ali have entered a plea of guilty or not guilty.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Rothstein said in court Thursday that when authorities searched the apartments of the two men they found ballistic vests, body armor, gas masks, zip ties, hand cuffs, firearm storage kits, breaching equipment, handheld radios, body cams, at least one drone, law enforcement clothing, DHS patches and training manuals, binoculars, a telescope and a binder with a list of every resident of the apartment complex, which is home to numerous federal employees.
Law enforcement also found a loaded Glock-19, ammo, disassembled firearm components for long guns, scopes, sniper spotting equipment and airsoft pistols, as well as a passport for Ali that was stamped with Pakistani and Iranian visas, Rothstein said.
Among those who Ali and Taherzadeh allegedly deceived over the past two years were Secret Service agents assigned to the White House, including one in first lady Jill Biden's protective detail.
Four Secret Service agents have been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation, the FBI said in a filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The agent detailed to the first lady was among those placed on leave, senior law enforcement officials said.
The Secret Service is conducting an internal review of the interactions between four Secret Service agents and the two men accused of posing as federal agents, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.
“We are looking into our people in terms of how their social circles collided,” one of the sources said.
“We are only 72 hours into this review,” the source said, adding that “right now there’s no sign of nefarious activity.”
In a statement earlier Thursday, the Secret Service said, “All personnel involved in this matter are on administrative leave and are restricted from accessing Secret Service facilities, equipment, and systems. The Secret Service adheres to the highest levels of professional standards and conduct and will remain in active coordination with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.”
As part of the alleged scheme, Ali and Taherzadeh even recruited a person to be an “employee of DHS” and to “serve on their task force.” The complaint said they “required that the ‘applicant’ be shot with an Airsoft rifle to evaluate their pain tolerance and reaction. Subsequent to being shot, the applicant was informed that their hiring was in process.”
More charges against the two men could be forthcoming, including possibly conspiracy charges, Rothstein said Thursday.
Ali and Taherzadeh both asked to be represented by court-appointed attorneys, with Ali telling the judge on Thursday that he had made the request "because I don't have any money."
A virtual court hearing has been scheduled for Friday afternoon to determine whether the two defendants should continue to be detained.
Prosecutors say the defendants were in possession of five apartments — with two for separate residences and three used for storage.
Taherzadeh held several apartments in a D.C.-area building where numerous law enforcement agents live, according to the FBI. The building’s landlord, Congressional Square Owner LLC, said in a separate civil court filing last year that the company leased the apartments in 2020 for the purpose of sub-leasing them to third parties.
Prosecutors said Taherzadeh provided members of the Secret Service and a DHS employee with rent-free apartments, worth a total yearly rent of more than $40,000 per apartment, as well as iPhones, surveillance systems, a drone, a flat-screen television, a generator, law enforcement paraphernalia and a case for storing an assault rifle.
The documents also said Taherzadeh offered the agents the use of what they said were "official government vehicles" and proposed buying a $2,000 assault rifle for a Secret Service agent assigned to first lady Jill Biden's protective detail.
Both men are U.S. citizens with some college experience; Taherzadeh has claimed he went to Georgetown University. NBC News has reached out to the school for confirmation.
Ali, meanwhile, has claimed to witnesses that he had connections to Pakistan's intelligence agency, Rothstein said, while emphasizing that the U.S. government has not confirmed the veracity of those claims.
The two men were caught after a U.S. Postal Service inspector showed up at the building to investigate an alleged assault involving a USPS employee, the FBI said. The inspector was informed that Taherzadeh and Ali witnessed the incident.
They allegedly told the inspector that they were investigators with the "U.S. Special Police Investigation Unit," which one of them said was part of DHS, according to the FBI. The complaint said Taherzadeh owned a company called "United Special Police," which its website advertises as a private security and investigative agency, not actual law enforcement. The men claimed to be involved in undercover gang-related investigations, as well as conducting investigations related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the complaint said.
The Postal Service inspector relayed his findings about the men to the DHS Office of Inspector General, which then referred the information to the FBI.
CORRECTION (April 8, 2022, 6:12 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article mischaracterized Taherzadeh's claim to several properties in a D.C.-area building. He rented them; he did not own them.