A Melrose man allegedly masquerading as an FBI agent for monetary gain was arrested and charged in federal court Friday with two counts of impersonating a federal agent.
Gjerji “George” Pelushi, 28, duped two acquaintances into giving him about $27,700 and a car under the guise of training or assisting them, according to the criminal complaint.
Pelushi connected with the two victims through mutual acquaintances. Like him, they are originally from Albania. In interviews with FBI agents this year, the victims detailed Pelushi’s strategy: make lofty promises, reaffirm his FBI connections, and pressure them into paying thousands of dollars in exchange for his help, according to the affidavit.
The first victim had long wanted to be in law enforcement. When he met Pelushi in 2009, he believed Pelushi’s assertion that he was in the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division and could get him a job. Pelushi also said he was affiliated with the CIA.
Pelushi went to great lengths to scam the victim from 2009 to 2014, including bringing him to contrived meetings with people he said were other FBI officials, the affidavit said. Soon after the first of such meetings, Pelushi told the victim he had to be trained, at a cost of $20,000 and a Toyota Avalon, which the victim paid over the next three years.
The training tasks appeared legitimate, the victim told an FBI agent. One task involved periodically surveilling a registered sex offender. Another called for staking out a mosque. Pelushi told the victim his findings would be presented at the “Joint Terrorist Task Force,” the affidavit said. Throughout this training, the victim was repeatedly told his FBI start date had to be pushed back, and, growing suspicious of Pelushi, he contacted the FBI himself.
The second victim had a domestic assault charge against him that he wanted dropped.
A friend told him Pelushi could help, and Pelushi said as an FBI agent he could get the victim’s estranged wife deported, according to the affidavit. Eventually, Pelushi said he had an attorney ready to do the job who needed a $5,000 retainer. The victim paid, and later paid $2,700 more. The Office of General Counsel later provided the victim with $1,500 to be used in the undercover investigation, which Pelushi accepted, according to the affidavit.
The two victims happened to meet in 2013, and the first victim told the second that Pelushi was a liar and to stop giving him money.
Undercover FBI agents investigated for four months, recording phone calls and meetings between Pelushi and the victims in which Pelushi confirms their payments and makes further promises, according to the affidavit.
At one point, the affidavit said, during a taped conversation with the second victim, Pelushi said he patrolled this year’s Boston Marathon and that “the director” told him, “if you tell someone to stop and they reach for the bag, shoot them in the head!”
The affidavit said that in another recorded conversation, Pelushi told the victim to deny Pelushi’s FBI affiliation if asked.
In a hearing Friday afternoon, Pelushi was sent home and ordered not to leave his parents’ Melrose residence, where he lives, this weekend. The government had requested detention, but because Pelushi is a double lung transplant recipient with medical needs, he will be placed on electronic monitoring Monday.
“He’s just happy to be out of the building, as most defendants are,” said George F. Gormley, Pelushi’s appointed counsel, early Friday evening. “I literally just entered the case a couple of hours ago, so beyond what he’s charged with, I don’t know anything else about it.”
Prosecutors in US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz’s Crime Strike Force Unit will prosecute the case.
Pelushi faces a maximum sentence of three years.Claire McNeill can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @clairemcneill.