FBI informant in terror stings owned limo in deadly crash, state source confirms
WILTON — The owner of the limousine that crashed in Schoharie, killing 18 people on board and two pedestrians, is a former FBI informant who testified in two high-profile terrorism cases, a state official confirmed Monday.
Shahed “Malik” Hussain owns Prestige Limousine in Wilton, the official said. The limousine company is being scrutinized as federal and state investigators try to determine what caused the crash.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday said the limo involved in Saturday’s crash at the intersection of routes 30A and 30 had failed a state Department of Transportation inspection last month and should not have been on the road.
The driver did not have a proper license to operate the vehicle, the governor added.
Prestige Limousine shares a business address with the Crest Inn Suites & Cottages in Wilton, a motel that has been owned by Hussain for about a decade.
Hussain and his wife previously lived at the motel but the manager, Arnie Cornett, on Monday said they were no longer living there when he moved in about 18 months ago. Public records indicate Hussain still owns the motel and continues to operate the limo company.
A state official said Hussain owns the business but the limo service might be operated by a son.
At the time, Hussain owned and operated a Getty gas station on South Pearl Street in Albany. He also worked as a translator for the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and had routinely accepted bribes of several hundred dollars each to help immigrants, who in some cases couldn’t drive well, pass written exams they couldn’t understand, according to court records.
Following his arrest in December 2001, and while facing the prospect of a long prison term and eventual deportation to his native Pakistan, Hussain agreed to become an informant for the FBI.
Hussain had emigrated to the U.S. in 1993 and still held a green card at the time he went to work for the FBI, which credited him with helping arrest more than a dozen people, including the people involved in the DMV scandal and a member of an Afghani-based heroin trafficking ring.
But it was Hussain’s work as an informant in a controversial counter-terrorism sting in Albany that thrust him into the spotlight. He worked in an undercover role, posing as an arms dealer, to help federal authorities snare two immigrants with no criminal backgrounds at the time: Yassin Aref, an Iraqi refugee and imam of a Central Avenue mosque, and Mohammed Hussain, a Bangladeshi immigrant who owned a pizza shop.
Aref and Mohammed Hussain were both arrested in 2004 and accused of laundering money in connection with a fictitious terror plot set up by the FBI’s informant.
They were convicted in 2006 and both sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. Aref was recently released from prison and is being held in custody pending his deportation to Iraq.
The attorneys for Aref and Mohammed Hussain, Terence L. Kindlon and Kevin Luibrand, respectively, had harsh words for the informant who helped convict their clients.
During the Albany trial, there was testimony that the informant’s recorded conversations with the Albany targets were in Urdu. The informant would then translate those conversations for FBI agents, who later learned that the translations were not always accurate, according to the defense team. In addition, a wired listening device the informant wore during the sting failed during one of his most critical exchanges with Aref and was not taped — but rather offered as evidence through the recollection of an FBI agent and the informant.
Kindlon once called Hussain a “confidence man” who could not be trusted.
In May 2009, Hussain the informant resurfaced as an FBI informant when four men from Newburgh were charged with conspiring to plant explosives outside the Riverdale Jewish Center and Riverdale Temple in New York City. As in the Albany case, Shahed Hussain posed as a wealthy businessman and befriended the men before implicating them in a terror plot.
The four Newburgh men, Laguerre Payen, James Cromitie, Onta Williams and David Williams, were convicted but the FBI’s use of Shahed Hussain drew harsh criticism and raised entrapment questions.
Three years later, in 2012, Hussain again took part in an undercover FBI sting, this time targeting a then-34-year-old man, Khalifah Al-Akili, who lived near Pittsburgh. Khalifah Al-Akili told the Times Union in an interview that year that the FBI had used in an apparent attempt to test Al-Akili’s interest in jihad and anti-American views.
Al-Akili, who was later convicted of a firearms charge, said he was approached by Hussain, who went by the name “Mohammed,” and another man, who used the name “Shareef,” when they turned up in his neighborhood and repeatedly made attempts to get close to Al-Akili. But Al-Akili said he quickly figured out Hussain’s identity as an FBI informant. He said the men were “too obvious” and requested receipts even for small items they purchased like coffee and donuts.
In addition, he said, a cell phone number Hussain had given him was the same number used by Hussain during the 2009 counterterrorism investigation against the four Newburgh men. Al-Akili said he found the number and its connection to that case through a simple Internet search using Google.
Although Hussain’s undercover work had exposed his residency in Wilton, he never left the area and for years had lived a quiet life at the hardscrabble motel along Route 9 a few miles north of Saratoga Springs.
Cornett, the motel’s manager, said they occasionally receive mail there related to the limo company, but that Hussain kept the vehicles at another location.
Several years ago, Hussain tangled with the town of Wilton for running his limo business out of the back of the hotel without a permit. Town officials asked that he keep the vehicles in Latham, where they had previously been stored when not in use.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records on Prestige Limousine show that the company had two drivers and three vehicles.
A total of five inspections were done of the company’s vehicles over the past 25 months, and four were taken out of service as a result, which is a rate of 80 percent failure. The national average is 20 percent.