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Men charged in impersonation plot deny trying to influence federal agents

<i>Bill Hennessy</i><br/>Arian Taherzadeh and Haider Ali in federal court in Washington
Bill Hennessy
Arian Taherzadeh and Haider Ali in federal court in Washington

By Holmes Lybrand and Hannah Rabinowitz, CNN

The two men arrested last week for allegedly impersonating Homeland Security agents say that federal prosecutors took their actions out of context and overhyped their foreign travel.

During a detention hearing Monday and in court documents earlier, defense attorneys for Haider Ali and Arian Taherzadeh argued that the Justice Department was overblowing the actions of their clients, triggering a media frenzy full of false accusations.

The case has sparked much interest since the two men were arrested last week after allegedly ingratiating themselves with Federal agents for two years, giving them expensive gifts including rent-free apartments.

Both men are still behind bars while Judge Michael Harvey weighs whether to release them before trial. Harvey said he will issue a ruling Tuesday afternoon.

“It is preposterous,” Gregory Smith said of the allegations against Ali, his client. “They have been making a mountain out of a molehill, and it is time for it to end,” Smith said.

“When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” Michelle Peterson, the defense attorney for Taherzadeh, said of the Justice Department’s case. “They have jumped to the wildest conspiracy theories imaginable over the most scant of evidence.”

Peterson, in court filings, said Taherzadeh’s friendship with law enforcement was genuine and not part of some ruse.

“He acknowledged gifts to agents with whom he had a genuine friendship,” according to Peterson wrote. “He acted out of a desire for friendship, not to influence anyone. He never asked for anything from the officers he befriended, never gave them anything for the purpose of gaining something in response, and deeply regrets his involvement in this matter.”

Smith, meanwhile, said Ali didn’t know the extent of Taherzadeh’s lies and genuinely believed he was acting on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security.

Smith also slammed the Justice Department’s “reckless innuendo about how this case somehow involves a threat to national security.” In his filing, he wrote that there is no evidence of Ali having access to foreign money, and that the information he gave to the FBI during a voluntary interview shows he is not a “sophisticated party working with Pakistani intelligence.”

Letters from Ali’s family included in the filing said that he recently converted to the Shia sect in Islam, and the trips abroad were part of his spiritual journey.

The Justice Department also revealed new information over the allegations during the hearing, saying it had new witnesses who saw the two men with pistols, and that one of the defendant’s lied about illegally owning a rifle.

One witness, according to prosecutor Josh Rothstein, saw Taherzadeh with a semi-automatic rifle that was illegally converted into an automatic weapon. The gun is currently being analyzed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Rothstein said.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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