NEW YORK — The owner of a limousine company involved in a crash that killed 20 people was a paid FBI informant known for his work in a series of controversial domestic terrorism investigations in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Records show Prestige Limousine is owned by Shahed Hussain, a Pakistani immigrant and Albany-area businessman who began going undercover for the FBI after he ran into legal trouble.
A stretch SUV in the company's small fleet sped off the road and crashed in Schoharie, New York, Saturday. State and federal authorities are investigating the cause and roadworthiness of the vehicle. A lawyer for the company said the limo was safe.
In 2009, prosecutors credited Hussain with rooting out radical Muslims in an elaborate sting at a mosque in Newburgh, a city north of New York City. At trial, the jury heard testimony that Hussain was posing as a wealthy representative of a Pakistani terrorist organization.
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 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.
"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 trial testimony, Hussain first entered the U.S. in Texas with his wife and two sons in the 1990s after he was accused of murder in Pakistan. Hussain said the accusation was false and politically motivated.
He went to Albany, where he received asylum. In April 2003, he was working as a government translator when he pleaded guilty to a 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." Hussain's role in the Newburgh case was also the subject of an HBO documentary.
In more recent years, he was the owner of a low-budget motel, the Crest Inn Suites and Cottages, outside Saratoga Springs. The limo company was registered at that address.
Asked Monday about Hussain, the FBI wouldn't comment.