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Judge in limo crash case OKs sharing of grand jury testimony

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SCHOHARIE — State Supreme Court Justice Peter Lynch has authorized the release of grand jury testimony regarding the actions of Mavis Discount Tire, the Saratoga Springs repair store whose practices were exposed in the Schoharie limousine crash prosecution, to Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen.

Lynch signed the order on Friday, the five-year anniversary of the 2018 disaster that took the lives of 20 people and said disclosure of the grand jury testimony would be “an appropriate exercise of this court’s discretion.”

Heggen has declined to comment on whether or not she has initiated a criminal probe into Mavis and its Saratoga Springs location, where the 31-foot stretch Ford Excursion got its brakes serviced in the months leading up to the crash.

The district attorney on Tuesday again declined to say whether she is considering criminal charges against Mavis — and whether or not the five-year statute of limitations for bringing felony charges would impact any decision she would make in the matter.

Schoharie County District Attorney Susan Mallery didn’t uncover potential fraud by Mavis Discount Tire until Sept. 17, 2019, when she interviewed Virgil Park, the former manager of the Saratoga Springs business.

Park revealed that employees at Mavis had falsified an invoice for brake work that had not been done on the Excursion and that the store had faked an inspection of the Excursion in May 2018.

Mallery later cited that information as the main reason why she would later seek a no-jail plea deal in her criminal case against Nauman Hussain, who at the time of the crash was operating Wilton-based Prestige Limousine for his father, Shahed Hussain, a former FBI informant who had moved to Pakistan.

The Oct. 6, 2018, crash was caused by catastrophic brake failure: The limo’s brakes gave out on a steep hill on Route 30 that ended across the street from the parking lot of the popular Apple Barrel Cafe, which is located just outside the village of Schoharie.

The Mavis shop also was found to have affixed a passing state inspection sticker to the Excursion without having done an actual safety inspection on the vehicle. Under state law, a vehicle of that size was supposed to be inspected by the state Department of Transportation.

Facing multiple civil suits, Mavis has agreed to pay out millions of dollars to the families of the victims. A Mavis spokeswoman declined to comment on Lynch’s order.

Mallery told the Times Union that Lynch signed the order after she requested permission to send the grand jury documents to Heggen back in July.

Michael Belsky, a partner in the law firm of Tully Rinckey (which is not handling any litigation related to the crash), said the statute of limitations could be extended if the alleged fraud by Mavis continued past May 2018. Park told Mallery that the falsified invoice on Prestige’s limo was part of a larger effort by the store to meet corporate sales quotas for certain parts and service.

Last year, Lynch threw out Nauman Hussain’s original plea deal. During Hussain’s subsequent trial, the former manager of the Saratoga Springs Mavis shop testified that it falsified an invoice for brake work that Hussain had asked to be done on the Excursion. The limo had chronic braking problems, according to various witnesses and evidence.

Hussain was found guilty on 20 counts of second-degree manslaughter after prosecutors convinced the jury that he had been warned repeatedly that the Excursion was not allowed to be rented out to passengers because it lacked state authority from DOT and needed to pass the agency’s more rigorous inspection.

Hussain is now serving a sentence of five to 15 years in state prison and is currently at a maximum security prison in Elmira.

Although Hussain’s attorney Lee Kindlon could not convince the jury that it was Mavis, not his client, that was responsible for the crash, Heggen reportedly contacted State Police and the Schoharie County District Attorney’s Office seeking information for a potential criminal case against the auto chain, which has denied any wrongdoing in the crash.

An administrative law judge with the state Department of Motor Vehicles ruled in December 2019 that Mavis committed fraud, fining the company $9,000.

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