An American flag waves outside the U.S. Department of Justice Building in Washington, U.S., December 15, 2020.
An American flag waves outside the U.S. Department of Justice Building in Washington, U.S., December 15, 2020. Reuters / ALEXANDER DRAGO

The U.S. Secret Service said on Thursday it has placed some of its personnel on administrative leave for allegedly accepting gifts including rent-free apartments from two men now facing criminal charges for posing as Department of Homeland Security special agents.

The Secret Service's announcement came a day after the U.S. Justice Department said it had arrested the two suspects, Arian Taherzadeh and Haider Ali, in Washington. Officials said their actions were exposed when the suspects gave false statements about being members of law enforcement to a U.S. Postal inspector investigating the March assault of a letter carrier.

According to the criminal complaint, Taherzadeh and Ali had posed as special agents since at least February 2020 and offered a variety of gifts to Secret Service members and at least one homeland security employee, including rent-free apartments valued at $40,000 a year, iPhones, surveillance systems, a drone, a flat-screen television, a case for storing an assault rifle, a generator and other law enforcement paraphernalia.

The FBI also said that Taherzadeh offered to purchase a $2,000 assault rifle for an agent assigned to protect First Lady Jill Biden and told other government officials they could have access to what he claimed were "official government vehicles."

The Justice Department said the two men tried to recruit at least one person to join what they claimed was an official DHS "task force."

"Taherzadeh and Ali required that the 'applicant' be shot with an Airsoft rifle to evaluate their pain tolerance and reaction," an FBI agent wrote in a sworn statement. "Subsequent to being shot, the applicant was informed that their hiring was in process. The applicant was also assigned to conduct research on an individual that provided support to the Department of Defense and intelligence community."

As of Monday, four members of the Secret Service were placed on administrative leave pending further investigation, officials said.

"All personnel involved in this matter are on administrative leave and are restricted from accessing Secret Service facilities, equipment and systems," the agency said.

During the interview with the Postal inspector who discovered the scheme, the men claimed to be part of a special police investigative unit involved with under-cover gang work and investigations into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, officials said.

The postal inspector discovered that others who lived in the same apartment complex believed that Taherzadeh and Ali had set up surveillance in the building, officials said. Residents said they believed the two were capable of accessing their private cellphones and had access to their personal information, officials added.

The two suspects are expected to make an initial appearance in federal court in Washington later on Thursday.