Shahed "Malik" Hussain was given the kind of second chance most criminals only dream of.
Having pleaded guilty to a federal fraud charge, Hussain was facing a lengthy prison sentence and deportation back to his home country of Pakistan when the FBI offered him a sweet deal: He could become a paid government informant and remain in the U.S.
Hussain was a con man and a career criminal, but that didn't stop the FBI from using him to build a case against Yassin Aref, the Albany imam that many Capital Region residents, including myself, believe was wrongly convicted of terrorism-related charges in 2006.
Now, like the proverbial bad penny, Hussain has resurfaced, this time as the owner of the limousine involved in the devastating crash that killed 20 people in Schoharie on Saturday.
The investigation into the crash is still in the early stages, but what we know thus far suggests that Hussain is the same shady, sleazy character he's always been, seemingly unwilling or incapable of following the law, staying out of trouble and being a decent person.
We know that the vehicle in the crash failed a state inspection last month and was not supposed to be on the road, according to state police.
We know that the violations cited in an inspection report from last month include malfunction indicators for the limo's hydraulic brake system, and that the driver of the limousine did not have the proper commercial driver's license.
"Everything (Hussain's) ever been involved in, he's screwed up by not following the rules," Kathy Manley, Aref's longtime attorney, told me when I contacted her on Tuesday. "He never does what he's supposed to do."
When she learned of Hussain's connection to the deadliest transportation accident in the U.S. since 2009, Manley said she thought, "Oh, my God, I can't believe it. But at the same time, it's very believable."
Nobody expects government informants to be choirboys, but Hussain's history of misdeeds and his shoddy oversight of his limousine company, Prestige Limousine, suggest he is not to be trusted, now or ever.
Worth noting is the fact that Hussain was fleeing a murder charge when he arrived in the U.S. in the 1990s. He was also accused of making fraudulent statements in a personal bankruptcy case. The fraud that attracted the FBI's attention? Helping people get their driver's licenses illegally while serving as a government translator.
"The FBI bears responsibility for enabling this guy," Manley told me. "They knew what he was like. He's a pathological liar."
There's a reason that my predecessor, longtime Gazette columnist Carl Strock, referred to Hussain as "Malik the Snitch" and described him as "possibly the slimiest character in the history of law enforcement, or at least the the slimiest character I have ever personally observed in law enforcement."
It was Hussain who posed as an arms dealer in the controversial FBI sting that led to the arrest of Aref, a Kurdish refugee who came to the U.S. in 1999, and Mohammed Hossain, an Albany pizza shop owner.
Hussain offered Hossain the opportunity to make some money by laundering the proceeds from the sale of a missile -- later revealed to be fake -- to a terrorist group; Aref entered the picture months later, when he agreed to witness the transaction.
I've never been convinced that Aref, whose English at the time was fairly poor, fully understood what he was being asked to do.
Had Hussain not ingratiated himself with Aref and Hossain and involved them in his fictitious scheme, the two men would very likely have gone on living their lives. Instead they went to prison.
Aref has completed his sentence and is now in immigration detention in York, Pa., awaiting a deportation order.
It's a fate Hussain, who is currently in Pakistan, managed to avoid by working with the FBI, but that doesn't make him the better person. His connection to the limousine accident reminded me of the concerns and doubts I always had about Aref's conviction, and the FBI's use of an informant with a history of lying and deception.
On Tuesday I took a drive out to the accident site, the intersection of state routes 30 and 30A near the Apple Barrel Country Store.
This intersection has a reputation for being dangerous, due to the way Route 30 crests down a long hill and ends at a stop sign. Having driven the route myself, I believe these dangers are being overstated.
Most drivers are ready to brake when going down a hill, and the limo was traveling in broad daylight, when the stop sign would have been easy to see and prepare for. Why the vehicle failed to stop is still a mystery, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that vehicle or driver failure was a factor.
One thing is clear: The limousine involved in the fatal crash should not have been on the road on Saturday, and the person responsible for putting it there is the man who owns it, Shahed Hussain.
Perhaps now he will finally be held accountable for his bad behavior.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]