AMSTERDAM — The FBI is probing the agency’s involvement in investigations into the October 2018 Schoharie limousine disaster which killed 20 people, according to a letter released by U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam.
“In recent months, concerns have been raised about this incident and whether there was any FBI involvement in the investigation,” wrote Jill Tyson, assistant director at the FBI. “As a result, the director ordered that the FBI further review the matter.”
The letter released on Monday does not address the nature or scope of the probe being undertaken by the inspection division. Tyson stated that no further information would be provided at this time because of the ongoing investigation.
Mounting questions over the FBI’s possible role in the investigation in the crash of a vehicle operated by Prestige Limousine, owned by Shahed Hussain, a former agency informant, prompted Tonko to call for answers earlier this year.
A request issued by Tonko in January for documents and communications by the FBI related to the investigation was initially rejected.
“I’m grateful that the FBI has finally agreed to open an investigation into how this matter was handled. These families deserve answers and I will not stop until they have them. I look forward [to] learning more from the FBI about the results of this investigation and will continue to do all I can to search for answers into this senseless tragedy,” Tonko said in a prepared statement.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, had similarly pressed FBI Director Christopher Wray for answers to no avail during a hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in March. She said the investigation was “long overdue,” following the announcement on Monday.
“This investigation must happen quickly and thoroughly in order to provide the devastated families and communities answers that they have been waiting years for,” Stefanik said in a prepared statement.
The probe is being taken up after years of allegations that the FBI may have shielded Shahed Hussain, his family and Prestige from enforcement actions and legal consequences beyond the limo crash because of his former service. Prestige was operated by Shahed Hussain’s son, Nauman.
Shahed Hussain was facing a prison sentence and deportation to Pakistan after pleading guilty to a federal fraud charge when he was offered a deal to become a paid FBI informant and remain in the United States. There have been accusations that cases he was involved in as a source bordered on entrapment.
The stretched 2001 Ford Excursion that crashed at the intersection of routes 30 and 30A in Schoharie on Oct. 6, 2018 should not have been on the road, according to an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB found failure of the aging limo’s badly-maintained brakes caused the crash to which ineffective oversight of Prestige by the state Department of Transportation and state Department of Motor Vehicles contributed. DOT had the authority to confiscate the limo, which it did with 59 other vehicles around the state under similar circumstances in subsequent years.
Prestige and operator Nauman Hussain were primarily faulted by the NTSB for the crash for not properly maintaining the vehicle. Only Nauman Hussain has faced criminal charges.
Nauman Hussain pleaded guilty to 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide as part of an agreement that avoids prison time. Shahed Hussain was in Pakistan at the time of the crash and has not returned to the United States.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.