The lawyer for a Melrose man charged with two counts of impersonating an FBI agent said in court Tuesday that his client truly believed he was a federal agent.
Gjergi “George” Pelushi, 28, believes the FBI is “framing him and making him the fall guy for his mistakes,” attorney Geoffrey G. Nathan said after a hearing in US District Court in Boston.
Pelushi attempted to testify at the hearing, which was held after Pelushi’s arrest Tuesday on charges of violating a condition of his pretrial release. He had been ordered not to contact the victims in his impersonation case while he awaits trial, but allegedly did so.
Prosecutor Timothy Moran questioned FBI Special Agent Jason Costello, who detailed text messages Pelushi allegedly sent to a victim, one of the people he allegedly duped and received money from by pretending to be an FBI agent.
“I characterize [the messages] as a defendant harassing a witness,” Costello said.
Nathan has filed a motion for a competency evaluation for Pelushi. He noted that his client believes that he works for the FBI and that Pelushi probably “did not understand the terms and conditions of his release included in the no-contact order.”
Chief US Magistrate Judge Jennifer C. Boal advised Pelushi to reflect overnight before waiving his Fifth Amendment rights and testifying at the hearing, which is scheduled to reconvene at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.
According to a criminal complaint filed earlier this month, Pelushi duped two acquaintances into giving him about $27,700 and a car under the guise of training or assisting them.
In 2009, Pelushi convinced the first alleged victim that he was in the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division and that he could get him a job, the affidavit said. Pelushi told the alleged victim he needed training, at a cost of $20,000 and a Toyota Avalon, which the alleged victim paid for over the next three years.
The training tasks, such as periodically monitoring a registered sex offender, appeared to be legitimate, the alleged victim told an FBI agent. Pelushi often brought the alleged victim to meetings with people he said were other FBI officials and told the alleged victim his findings would be presented at the “Joint Terrorist Task Force,” the affidavit said. Through it all, the victim was repeatedly told that his FBI starting date had to be pushed back, and, growing suspicious of Pelushi, he contacted the FBI himself.
The second alleged victim had a domestic assault charge against him that he wanted dropped. Pelushi allegedly told the victim that as an FBI agent, he could get the victim’s estranged wife deported, according to the affidavit. Eventually, Pelushi asked the alleged victim for $5,000 to pay an attorney to facilitate the deportation. The alleged victim paid the $5,000 and later paid $2,700 more, according to the affidavit.
Undercover FBI agents investigated Pelushi for four months, recording phone calls and meetings between Pelushi and the alleged victims in which Pelushi confirmed their payments and made further promises, according to the affidavit.
Costello said in court Tuesday that Pelushi has texted the second alleged victim several times since his arrest Aug. 1. Costello read some of the texts, including: “We were three eagles. . . . How are you, brother,” and “Sorry for the texts, I thought you were someone else. I lost my contacts.”
Costello said Pelushi admitted in an interview after his arrest that he has been lying about being a federal agent to family and friends for years.
In that interview, Pelushi “said nothing about saving the world from a terror attack,” Costello said.
Nathan said in court that he believes Pelushi is “dealing with some substantial mental health issues.”
Pelushi faces a maximum sentence of three years if convicted.