What to Know
- Shahed Hussain, owner of Prestige Limousines, once worked as an FBI informant after pleading guilty to driver's license fraud in 2003
- Hussain is currently out of the country, and his sons have been running the company, according to Lee Kindlon, attorney for the company
- Kindlon says the company is fully cooperating with investigators looking into the weekend limo crash that killed 20 people
The owner of the doomed limo that crashed Saturday, killing 20 people in upstate New York, has a history with the FBI.
Shahed Hussain, now the head of Prestige Limousines, pleaded guilty to driver’s license fraud in 2003. Court records reviewed by the I-Team show Hussain admitted to a scheme, which involved trying to pay a DMV worker $500 in return for a fraudulent ID.
According to Hussain’s admission, he "arranged for a DMV clerk, who he knew would assist him in completing this fraudulent transaction, to issue an interim license in a name other than the true name" of someone he believed would use the fake license to drive a taxi cab in New York City.
In the years after pleading guilty to the DMV fraud, Hussain cooperated with the FBI, acting as a confidential informant on several high-profile terrorism investigations, according to multiple law enforcement sources.
In 2009, the government credited Hussain with rooting out radical Muslims in an elaborate sting at a mosque in Newburgh, a city north of New York. At trial, the jury heard testimony that Hussain was posing as a wealthy representative of a Pakistani terrorist organization.
The Associated Press reports he drove a BMW and other luxury vehicles provided by the FBI to maintain his cover. He also made hundreds of hours of video and audio tapes of the defendants picking targets for jihad and ranting against Jews. His cooperation resulted in the conviction of four men in a thwarted plot to attack synagogues and shoot down military planes.
But Hussain's work also came under attack by defense attorneys and civil liberties groups as entrapment. They portrayed him as a master manipulator who entrapped a crew of aimless nobodies while earning $96,000 for his work.
Even U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon said at sentencing that she was not proud of the government's role in the plot, the Associated Press reports.
"I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition," McMahon said. She added, "That does not mean there was no crime."
According to his own trial testimony, Hussain first entered the U.S. in Texas with his wife and two sons in the 1990s and went to Albany, where he received asylum. In April 2003, he was working as a government translator when he pleaded guilty to the federal fraud charge for helping someone get their driver's license illegally.
He got a sentence that required no more jail time by working as an FBI informant.
Hussain was a central player in an FBI sting targeting an Albany pizza shop owner and an imam who were convicted of money laundering and conspiring to aid a terrorist group. Both defendants said they were tricked by Hussain during the sting, which involved a business loan using money from a fictitious missile sale.
More recently, a botched sting involving Hussain in Pittsburgh became the subject of a documentary called "(T)error." The target described on Facebook how after meeting the informant he had the "feeling that I had just played out a part in some Hollywood movie where I had just been introduced to the leader of a 'terrorist' sleeper cell."
Asked Monday about Hussain, the FBI wouldn't comment.
Major Robert Patnaude, commander of New York State Police Troop G, said Hussain is currently out of the country. Lee Kindlon, the attorney for Prestige Limousine, said while Hussain has been away, his sons have been running the company.
Kindlon said he was unaware of the 15-year-old fake ID case against Hussain, but he stressed the company is fully cooperating with investigators looking into the weekend limo crash. He also said a series of inspection problems with Prestige limos is unrelated to the crash.
"They were minor violations that had all been corrected," Kindlon said.