The owner of the Upstate New York limousine company whose vehicle was involved in a horrific crash that killed 20 people over the weekend also has a background as a prolific federal informant in anti-terrorism cases, according to reports.
Shahed Hussain, a native of Pakistan and the key witness in a handful of high-profile terrorism stings, is the owner of Prestige Limousine, the company that operated the stretch SUV that on Saturday sped down a hill, swiped two parked cars, and crashed into a ravine, killing the driver, all 17 passengers and two pedestrians, in Schoharie, a town west of Albany, the Times Union reports.
The day-to-day operation of the company is overseen by Hussain’s son, according to the paper, and police said that the former informant is currently out of the country.
Hussain, a former gas station owner who worked as a translator for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, began working for the FBI in the wake of the 9/11 attacks after he was caught in a federal investigation into fraud and bribery, according to “Crimes of Terror,” a legal studies text written by Wadie E. Said, a law professor at the University of South Carolina.
Hussain was busted accepting bribes of several hundred dollars each from immigrants who lacked English or driving skills while helping them obtain licenses, according to the Times Union.
Posing as a wealthy Pakistani businessman named Malik, Hussain’s first hit as an informant was to help the feds nail Yassin Aref, an Iraqi-born imam at an Albany mosque, and Mohammed Hossain, the owner of a local pizza shop, in a plot to launder money for a terror attack in Pakistan.
Both men were convicted, but civil liberties proponents and local Muslim leaders accused the FBI, through its informant, of creating a terror plot out of thin air and sticking it on Aref and Hossein, Wadie wrote.
Both men were sentenced in 2006 to 15 years in prison. Aref was recently released, but remains in immigration detention pending his deportation to Iraq, according to the Times Union.
In the wake of the conviction, a lawyer referred to Hussain as a “confidence man,” and accused him of mistranslating for his FBI handlers conversations that took place in Urdu, the Times Union reports.
But Hussain was not yet done working for the feds. In 2008, he began approaching worshippers at a mosque in Newburgh, New York, where he eventually zeroed in on four petty criminals to whom he introduced himself as a representative of a Pakistani terrorist group with links to al-Qaeda. Hussain oversaw the formation of the would-be terror cell, enticed them with promises of money, vacations to Puerto Rico and cars, and helped them plan an attack on local synagogues and a National Guard base, according to Wadie.
The four men were arrested in 2009, and despite their poor organizational skills, testimony that at least one of them was developmentally delayed and accusations of entrapment on the part of Hussain and the feds, the four men comprising the Newburgh “terror cell” were convicted on terrorism charges, Wadie wrote.
Accusations of entrapment did not stop the FBI from employing Hussain once more — though this time, his sloppy methods were less successful. When Hussain tried approaching an American-born Muslim convert named Khalifah al-Akili, he quickly made the man suspicious, and al-Akili’s suspicions were confirmed with a simple google search that showed that Hussain was using the same phone number that he had used in the Newburgh investigation, which showed up in online court records, Wadie wrote.
Al-Akili was eventually arrested on a firearms charge, but not before sending out a mass email to journalists and civil-liberties activists accusing the FBI of trying to entrap him.
Despite being exposed, Hussain never left the area, according to the Times Union. Instead, he hunkered down, running a motel in the town of Wilton, and eventually opening up his limo business, which he ran for a time out of the back of the motel, before regulators forced the business to relocate, the Times Union reports.
The company, which had two drivers and three vehicles at the time of the crash, was inspected five times over the past two years, with a total of four vehicles being taken out of service, according to the paper.
Additionally, the driver at the time, who has since been identified as Scott Lisinicchia, reportedly did not have the proper licenses to operate the stretch limo he was operating.
[Photo Credit: Associated Press]