Before it all went down in a storm of FBI agents and murky claims about Pakistani intelligence, one of the two alleged D.C. federal imposters lived a lavish life while rarely footing the bill.
He left behind a string of jilted business associates, unpaid vendors, and lawsuits for failure to pay that suggests a pattern of living high then running fast when the tab comes due.
Court records reviewed by TPM and interviews with former business associates of the pair show that Ari Taherzadeh, 40, in the years before his arrest with Haider Ali, 36, ran several D.C.-area businesses that ended in a spiraling series of lawsuits.
Two companies that he formed in 2014 as part of an earlier web hosting venture — AET Holdings and AET Hosting Solutions — bear his initials: Arian Eugene Taherzadeh.
The focus, at least in those years, seemed less geared towards gaining sway with influential figures in the political and national security worlds and more towards driving fancy cars at high speeds on the highways of Northern Virginia and securing bottle service at L2, a Georgetown nightclub.
TPM contacted numerous former associates, biz partners, and employees of Taherzadeh, with few willing to go on the record to recount their experiences with him. They were alternately embarrassed to have been defrauded, didn’t want to be publicly linked to the case, or wanted to put the whole thing behind them. One described constant efforts to recoup debts, met only with a dizzying back and forth of getting sucked in, spit out, and reabsorbed into Taherzadeh’s circle.
Taherzadeh and Ali were ultimately charged with impersonating federal agents this month, with federal prosecutors accusing the pair of “ingratiating” themselves with the Secret Service by pretending to be Homeland Security agents.
The story has prompted confusion and speculation from federal prosecutors and the press, including about whether the two may have been intelligence operatives conducting some kind of mission that involved penetrating the Secret Service. Ali, prosecutors have said, had once boasted of supposed ties to ISI — Pakistan’s foreign intelligence service — a claim that stoked much theorizing.
None of the former associates that TPM spoke with believed Taherzadeh or Ali to be spies. Their accounts suggest that Taherzadeh sought a flashy lifestyle, and was uninterested in discretion. Former associates said they assumed that Taherzadeh would eventually face some kind of accountability, but were surprised to see it end in a high-profile FBI raid.
Much of the conduct that caught the FBI’s attention had to do with a company that Taherzadeh formed called United States Special Police, which he allegedly described to his neighbors and acquaintances as affiliated with various federal agencies.
Before Taherzadeh got into security, however, there was AET. The company’s business plan was simple: buy servers, and rent out space on them for website hosting. Taherzadeh’s early acolytes hoped that it could be scaled nationally, bringing wealth to Taherzadeh and those around him.
But Taherzadeh, former employees of AET told TPM, was less focused on the romantic, startup vision of a bunch of coders hard at work in a garage. Instead, court records show, AET signed multiple leases for luxury apartment buildings — and paid little rent on them, despite landlords’ efforts to collect.
“He liked the life of partying as much as he loved doing new tech stuff, so for him it was one day coding, then go hang out by the pool,” one former employee told TPM.
Those who were around him at that time described a whirlwind lifestyle, with new apartments, new luxury cars and new watches every few months. People would sit down to code with Tito’s vodka and Red Bull. The days would sometimes end at L2, a now-defunct bar billed as an “upscale cocktail lounge with a sophisticated vibe” populated by “an international crowd.”
In the background, it appears Taherzadeh was unable to pay for the high-flying lifestyle and image that he cultivated.
Multiple landlords in the D.C. area filed suit against AET between 2015 and 2018, saying that the company failed to pay rent on its apartments. Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns three professional D.C. sports teams, won a $376,000 judgment in 2017 against AET, court records show. Monumental claimed that AET had failed to pay for a sponsorship deal in which AET agreed to donate 50 game tickets to troops.
Taherzadeh, who attended Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies from fall 2009 to 2011, was sued by the school’s alumni credit union in 2014 over auto loans tied to two Porsches.
Attorney Philip Yeager told TPM that the student-run credit union directed him to file suit over non-performance of the loans.
“What I do remember being unique about this case is that it was a pretty young guy who had two Porsches,” Yeager recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘man, I wish I had two Porsches.'”
Those hired by Taherzadeh described being charmed by him at first, taken in by penthouse apartments and bottle service at clubs coupled with promises that AET would make them all fabulously wealthy.
“I’m hyperaware of the fact that the rules for the people who make a certain amount of money are not the same as the rules or everyone else,” one former employee said. “There’s certain places where theres a 30 min wait — but if you’re going someplace, if people think Questlove is gonna join you, all of a sudden there’s a table in the back for you.”
“Ari lived for that,” the person added, specifying that Questlove was a hypothetical.
Over time, more and more bills started coming due.
Papers filed in D.C. Superior Court show that Moses Kamai, an AET employee from December 2015 to February 2016, obtained a $290,000 judgment against AET and Taherzadeh.
Kamai alleged in court documents that Taherzadeh never paid him his salary, and that he duped him into paying for a January 2016 business trip to Hawaii. A judge found that Taherzadeh owed Kamai money, but the docket shows years of unsuccessful attempts to recover the funds.
Another former business associate saw no point in suing.
“A judgment costs you money, and Ari has very little,” the person said, telling TPM that it took more than three years to recover financially from the hit he said his dealings with Taherzadeh dealt to his personal finances.
“When you go from an 800 credit rating to a 500, when you ruin your credit rating, that hurts,” the person added.
After AET became defunct, Taherzadeh appears to have switched to marketing himself as a security professional. U.S. Special Police, the company he formed to that end, is now at the center of a federal indictment, and Taherzadeh is under home confinement.
A superseding indictment filed this week accused him of firearms violations connected to U.S. Special Police — the security business that he ran.
Michelle Peterson, an attorney for Taherzadeh, declined to comment.
At least one lawsuit showed Haider Ali — the other alleged imposter arrested as part of the duo — suing Taherzadeh in 2017 for breach of contract.
“You know who I feel sorry for? Haider,” one of the former business associates said. “Because he’s been sucked in, sucked out, pushed back out again. Several times.”
Greg Smith, an attorney for Ali, echoed that sentiment in a memo arguing against pretrial incarceration for his client.
“If all of those experienced federal agents, with their years or even decades of experience, did not see through Taherzadeh’s claims, why is it fair to expect more from Mr. Ali, a high school graduate with no college degree and none of their formalized training?” he wrote.