SCOHARIE -- The son of the owner of Prestige Limousine pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a 40-count indictment against him in connection with the October Schoharie limo crash that killed 20 people.
Nauman Hussain, 28, of Cohoes, appeared in Schoharie County Court Wednesday afternoon facing 20 counts of second-degree manslaughter and 20 counts of criminally negligent homicide, one count of each for every victim.
Hussain's defense team, which includes attorneys Lee Kindlon and Joe Tacopina, waived the arraignment reading of the charges against Hussain before entering the not guilty plea.
The Oct. 6 crash at the intersection of state routes 30 and 30A killed all 17 passengers inside the limo, the limo driver and two pedestrians in the parking lot of a nearby store. The 17 passengers in the limo were en route from Amsterdam to Cooperstown to celebrate a birthday.
The investigation found the "sole responsibility for that vehicle being on the road was Nauman Hussain's" as it should never had been there based on brake issues found in a September inspection, state police Superintendent George Beach told reporters at the time of Hussain's arrest.
Hussain appeared at Wednesday's arraignment having been free on $50,000 bail or $150,000 bond since shortly after his October arrest.
Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery asked for Hussain's bail to be increased to $500,000 and that a GPS device be placed on Hussain. Schoharie County Court Judge George Bartlett set bail at $225,000 cash or $450,000 bond after hearing arguments from the prosecutor and defense attorneys.
Mallery argued the initial bail was based on one count of criminally negligent homicide and Hussain now faces a total of 40 counts. She said he faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
Mallery told the court Hussain was a potential flight risk and argued he has shown a willingness to ignore court proceedings in the past, failing to appear at traffic court on eight different occasions and failing to comply with a court order to provide a DNA sample four years ago related to a conviction on a misdemeanor. Mallery said the basis for the allegation against Hussain in the earlier case was his having impersonated his brother.
"The people allege the defendant is of poor character," Mallery said. She further argued that Hussain's father, Shahed Hussain, of Wilton, is currently in his native Pakistan and the family has ties to Dubai.
But defense attorney Kindlon said Shahed Hussain traveled to Pakistan March 20, 2018 and completed triple bypass surgery in January. He told reporters after the hearing that Shahed Hussain has expressed interest in returning to the U.S., but the defense team has told him there is no reason to do so unless the prosecution asks him to appear. Kindlon said the state has made no attempt to charge Shahed Hussain, the owner of the company, but has charged his son because "he was the closest" person they could grab.
Tacopina, a partner in the Madison Avenue law firm Tacopina & Seigel, made his first official court appearance on behalf of Hussain Wednesday. Tacopina argued that his client is innocent of the charges against him and did not flee after posting his bail bond in October and does not have a passport.
He also said the state's case against Hussain is far from a "slam dunk." He said the driver of the limousine, Scott Lisinicchia, was found to have THC, an active chemical in marijuana, in his blood during the time of the crash, previewing one part of Hussain's defense strategy. Tacopina said Hussain did not know Lisinicchia had marijuana in his system during the time of the crash. He said Mallery's connection of Hussain to Pakistan and Dubai was meant to damage Hussain.
Judge Bartlett asked Hussain's defense to explain his ties to the area. Kindlon said Hussain operates several rental properties, went to a local high school, although he ultimately earned a GED, and operates several local companies.
"He's more Capital Region than I am," Kindlon said.
Bartlett said he weighed the flight risk against Hussain's local ties and decided to set the bail at $225,000 cash or $450,000 bond.
Hussain's team had a bail bondsman present and were prepared to make bail, but Mallery argued there should be a hearing to determine the source of Hussain's money. She said Hussain was operating three limousine companies at the time of the crash, one that owned the company's credit cards, one that owned its internet service and third that owned the vehicles. She said she has witness testimony alleging that Hussain operated a cash business, including paying his employees in cash. She said she has reason to doubt the legitimacy of the sources of Hussain's money.
Tacopina said that unless Mallery was making an argument that the source of Hussain's funds is a criminal enterprise, something he hasn't be charged with, the court should reject her request for a bail source hearing.
Mallery withdrew her request for a "bail source hearing."
"At this time, I want to protect the witnesses," Mallery said.
Tacopina asked that the court allow Hussain's experts to gain access to the damaged limousine, which they have not been able to do up until now. Mallery did not object to the access and the court granted it.
The court also set the motion schedule and trail date for Hussian.
Defense motions will be due to the court June 5, responses to those motions will be due June 19, decisions by the court to those pretrial motions will be made July 17 at 11 a.m., a pretrial court hearing will be held Aug. 14 at 9:30 a.m. and the trial date has been set for Sept. 16 at 9 a.m.