Albany Times Union
Will the FBI come clean?
In the four and a half years since a stretch Ford Excursion with faulty brakes careened down a long hill in Schoharie County, barreled through a parking lot and crashed into a ditch — a disaster that killed 20 people — the Times Union has delved into the shadowy past of Shahed Hussain, the still-absent owner of Prestige Limousine.
The paper trail that our reporter Larry Rulison followed in the wake of the crash raised about as many questions as it answered — concerning Mr. Hussain’s real estate holdings (including a Loudonville home that sold to an unknown buyer for $300,000 above its market value), his businesses (where Mr. Hussain left a string of partners feeling cheated), and most notably his tenure as an undercover informant working on post-9/11 counter-terrorism cases for the FBI.
Mr. Hussain appears to have become an asset in 2002, after he was arrested in an alleged fraud scheme.
Whenever the bureau has been asked about its relationship with him, it has flatly refused even to confirm his status as an informant — despite the fact that for years he served up sworn testimony in open court as a federal prosecution witness.
In January 2022 — fully three years after the carnage in Schoharie — a comprehensive story about the crash in New York magazine finally shamed elected officials into demanding that the FBI cough up answers about Mr. Hussain. The most insistent members of the U.S. House of Representatives to make that call were Reps. Paul Tonko and Elise Stefanik. This editorial board has been befittingly critical of Ms. Stefanik, but in this instance the lawmaker — who now holds the No. 3 post in the chamber — has directed her ire in the right direction.
In a hearing last week, Ms. Stefanik announced that the FBI had completed its year-long internal review of the limo crash and Mr. Hussain; she pressed director Christopher Wray to brief not only members of Congress but the families of the dead as well. On the second point, Mr. Wray equivocated — once again citing “limitations” on what could be shared with the general public.
Enough. It’s years past the time when the FBI should have offered a clear narrative of its dealings with Mr. Hussain — especially the central question of whether the bureau ever vouched for him or otherwise tried to mollify the officials who examined his business endeavors. The families of the crash victims absolutely deserve the facts, and so do the rest of this community and the nation that surrounds it. The FBI needs to release its full report, with only those redactions necessary to preserve genuinely sensitive material, as opposed to merely saving the bureau from potential embarrassment.
This is Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of the laws that undergird open government and transparency. We can think of no case in which a public accounting is more necessary and overdue, and no group more deserving of illumination than those who lost loved ones on that terrible day.