Two men accused of impersonating federal officers will be released to await trial
Two men accused of masquerading as federal law enforcement and providing expensive gifts to Secret Service agents will be freed Wednesday pending trial after the Justice Department decided not to appeal a judge's order in the case.
The saga of Arian Taherzadeh and Haider Ali broke into public view with their rushed arrest last week on a single charge of impersonating law enforcement. Prosecutors suggested the men posed a national security threat and may have compromised at least four Secret Service agents and officers, including ones who protected First Lady Jill Biden and the White House complex.
But authorities later rejected an allegation that Ali had ties to the Pakistani intelligence service and they could not offer evidence that any secrets had been exchanged that could endanger the president or his family.
Authorities say they continue to investigate possible bribery and extortion and the four Secret Service personnel have been placed on leave pending an internal investigation. One of those internal investigators may have tipped off Taherzadeh last week by sending an email to his business account, leading the FBI and federal prosecutors to scramble to interview dozens of residents in their apartment building and gather evidence.
Lawyer Greg Smith, who represents Ali, said the facts didn't match the rhetoric in the case and pointed out that his client had been deemed "indigent" and unable to pay for private legal counsel, hardly the sign of a foreign intelligence operative.
Public defender Michelle Peterson, who represents Taherzadeh, said he had submitted to an interview that lasted more than five hours after he was arrested, and provided the government with plenty of information during that time.
"When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail," Peterson said, adding that authorities "jumped to the wildest conspiracy theories" based on scant evidence.
Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey released both adult defendants into the custody of their fathers, who live in Virginia, and ordered them to submit to electronic monitoring and to stay away from airports and embassies.
"At this point, there's been no showing that national security information was in fact compromised," the judge said. He added that both men are now "infamous" because of international publicity, making it unlikely they could attempt or pull off an effort to dupe other federal officers.
Among the items the defendants allegedly provided to the Secret Service personnel were luxury-style apartments. The tab came to more than $220,000, but only a tiny fraction of that rent has been paid, raising questions about whether the men were motivated more by "bravado" than a sinister national security purpose.
The judge said earlier this week that prosecutors likely had enough evidence to convict both men on the single felony charge. But, he added, neither posed a serious risk of flight or a broader danger to the community.
Unless the Justice Department adds new charges, both men face a possible zero to six months in prison if they are convicted.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia had asked Judge Harvey to stay his ruling until 9 a.m. ET Wednesday, while it decided whether to pursue an appeal.
Defense attorney Smith told NPR he received notice around midnight that the government would not appeal.
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