SCHOHARIE — The FBI met with the families of those killed in the Oct. 6, 2018 Schoharie limousine crash on Tuesday to discuss the connections Shahed Hussain, the owner of Prestige Limousine & Chauffeur Service, had with the agency.
Kevin Cushing, whose son Patrick was one of the 20 individuals killed in the crash, said the two-hour meeting “was expansive,” and included information on Hussain’s work with the agency as well as the details on the FBI’s internal investigation into its past connection with the owner of the Wilton-based company.
But, Cushing said that the meeting “shed no new light as to any culpability by the bureau.”
“We hope for continued discussions with the FBI and NYS Police to further understand how to close the information gaps that still exist regarding this tragedy,” he said.
The meeting took place a day before Hussain’s son, 33-year-old Nauman, is to be sentenced in Schoharie County Court after being convicted earlier this month of 20 counts of second-degree manslaughter. Nauman Hussain was the operator of the limo company at the time of the crash. He now faces up to 15 years in state prison.
Nauman Hussain rented the stretched 2001 Ford Excursion SUV to a group of 17 friends from the Amsterdam area to attend a birthday celebration in Cooperstown. The vehicle later crashed after it suffered catastrophic brake failure while descending a steep incline on state Route 30. All 17 passengers, the limo’s driver and two bystanders were killed in what remains the deadliest automobile wreck in the country in more than a decade.
But, questions have lingered about Shahed Hussain’s role in the crash, and whether he used his past ties with the FBI to skirt state and federal regulations that could have prevented the wreck. Shahed Hussain has never been charged in connection to the incident, was out of the country at the time of the crash and has never returned to the U.S.
His ties to the FBI date back to 2001, when he agreed to work as an informant as a way to escape his own legal trouble. His work was used in several high-profile cases, including a 2006 conviction of two Albany immigrants for funding a fictitious terror plot. Shahed Hussain posed as an arms dealer in the case.
The FBI did not return a request seeking comment Tuesday.
The agency completed an internal report on Hussain’s ties to the organization, but the report was never made public. Instead, FBI officials briefed lawmakers on its findings.
The Times Union reported earlier this month that the Hussains reached out to the agency following the crash, but the FBI never intervened.
U.S. Reps. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, and Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, have continued to raise questions on whether Shahed Hussain’s past connections as an FBI informant had any role in the deadly crash, and have pressed FBI Director Christopher Wray to conduct the internal investigation. It’s unclear who from the FBI conducted the briefing.
Both representatives praised the FBI briefing on Tuesday.
“After years of my tireless advocacy for transparency, accountability, and answers for families who lost their loved ones in the Schoharie limo crash, the FBI finally responded to my requests and informed my office that they will be briefing the families today,” Stefanik said in a statement Tuesday.
Tonko offered similar sentiments about the meeting taking place.
“From the start, I’ve pushed the FBI relentlessly to secure a briefing with the families of the Schoharie limo crash victims,” he said in a statement. “I am heartened to hear that the FBI has heeded my numerous calls that these families be briefed directly and to the fullest extent on the agency’s internal investigation. The very least owed to the loved ones of those lost is transparency and answers to their questions.”
Tuesday’s meeting is the latest development in the nearly five-year-long quest for justice the families of those killed have been on since the crash.
Nauman Hussain accepted a plea deal to 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide that would have seen him serve probation and complete community service, but the deal was rejected at the last minute by state Supreme Court Justice Peter Lynch during a sentencing hearing last year.
Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery called around two dozen witnesses during the seven-day trial that eventually transpired earlier this month, including several officials from the state’s Department of Transportation, who testified Nauman Hussain was aware that his vehicle was not in compliance with state and federal vehicle registration and inspection laws but continued to operate the chauffeur service.
The trial also renewed questions about what role the Mavis Discount Tire repair shop in Saratoga Springs had in the crash.
Virgil Park, the former manager of the repair shop, testified that Hussain was charged for brake work — including a master brake cylinder replacement and a brake fluid flush — that was never completed months prior to the wreck and that he told a mechanic, Thomas Klingman, to complete a DMV safety inspection on the vehicle despite the shop not having the authority to inspect the limo. Klingman testified that he never completed the inspection, but passed the vehicle after feeling pressured by Park to do so.
Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen has requested information on the repair shop from state police, a sign that a criminal investigation could be underway.
Families of those killed have said that justice is “incomplete” until Mavis is held accountable for its actions.
Columnist Andrew Waite contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.