Limousine accident, October 6, 2018

Shahed “Malik” Hussain testified in several high-profile terrorism cases.

limousine
NOT the actual vehicle
You may well have heard about the limousine accident in upstate New York in October 2018 that killed 20 people.

Seventeen were friends and family including four sisters, young parents, and newlyweds, celebrating a birthday. One was the driver, and the other two were pedestrians struck by the vehicle as it careened off the road.

The terrible accident on the intersection of routes 30A and 30 in Schoharie, about 20 miles from Albany, was national, even international news.

A couple of narratives have emerged. One is that the vehicle should not have been on the road. It had failed a state Department of Transportation inspection the previous month. A total of five inspections were done of the company’s vehicles over the previous 25 months, and four were taken out of service as a result.

One of the victims texted the limo was in ‘terrible condition’ minutes before the crash. The driver in the fatal crash was ticketed in August for having improper license, driving 11 people in that same vehicle.

Other “major issues cited were rear emergency exits that weren’t operating properly, and the fact that the modified Excursion didn’t have the proper federal certification label that should have been affixed after the SUV had been altered by a third party.” The brakes were also problematic.

For a time, National Transportation Safety Board investigators were frustrated over their inability to fully examine the limousine, first because of the pending criminal case, and, for a time, because of the 35-day partial government shutdown.

The insurer of the stretch Excursion, Global Liberty Insurance of New York, canceled the insurance policy on the limo six times between January and September. Prestige Limo tried to sell vehicle days before the fatal crash, listing it on Craigslist for $9,000.

The other narrative was that, while day-to-day operation of Prestige Limousine day-to-day operation of the company was run by his son, the owner is Shahed “Malik” Hussain. Malik testified in several high-profile terrorism cases. Malik “became an F.B.I. informant after being charged in 2002 with a scheme that involved taking money to illegally help people in the Albany area get driver’s licenses” and other crimes.

The “con man and career criminal” was given the kind of second chance most criminals only dream of. By his own telling, Shahed Hussain’s journey to upstate New York began with a murder charge.

The elder Hussain 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 Hossain, a Bangladeshi immigrant who owned a pizza shop.

“Aref and Mohammed Hossain 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.”

“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…” And there were other irregularities.

Critics said that the FBI and Hussain entrapped Muslims who otherwise would never have been involved in terrorism in other cases as well, one highlighted in “The Newburgh Sting,” an HBO documentary.

How can we ensure stretch limos are roadworthy? How does one prevent an owner from circumventing the state’s inspection process repeatedly?

In January 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wanted to include a ban on “stretched” or remanufactured limousines in New York, as well as sweeping measures to expand regulation of the limousine industry. Limo firms wary of Cuomo’s plan.

As of March 2019, New York lawmakers are only now talking about holding hearings on what further regulation limousines might need.

For ABC Wednesday