How Simple Due Diligence Could Have Saved 20 Lives
As details are revealed about the deadliest U.S. transportation crash in a decade, several tragic truths have started to come out, too.
In fact, many safety violations and prior criminal convictions have since been reported, all coming back to Prestige Limousine Chauffeur Service; its owner, Shahed Hussain; its operator, Nauman Hussain; and the limo’s driver, Scott Lisinicchia.
Any and all of these facts might have given the victims pause had they been aware.
As with any heartbreaking loss of life, it is vital to consider the red flags that could have prevented the deadly accident in Schoharie, New York, which took 20 lives. This tragic accident happened just 40 miles west of our corporate headquarters. I (and several of my employees) personally know or have worked with family members related to the young men and women involved in this terribly sad incident.
I felt compelled to write about what, if anything, can be done to protect the public and the due diligence procedures employers can implement to potentially prevent a tragedy in the future.
Performing due diligence and conducting background investigations is vital for companies that provide services to the public, offer transportation options or are hiring employees to work for them. Consumers and employers alike need to be aware the highest level of safety and security can only be obtained by conducting investigations prior to hiring an employee or a company to provide services.
In many instances, something as simple as a Google search or check of a company’s online reviews can turn up relevant details.
Consider the following information that has come to light following the tragic crash in Schoharie. The limousine involved in the accident, which replaced a broken-down “party bus” initially reserved by the victims, was a 2001 Ford Excursion. The limo, booked hurriedly and at the last minute due to the breakdown of the preferred vehicle, had not been properly converted to a stretch limo. Since the limo was altered after leaving the factory, it skirted the tough safety guidelines it should have otherwise met, making it unsafe to drive.
Consumers and employers alike need to be aware the highest level of safety and security can only be obtained by conducting investigations prior to hiring an employee or a company to provide services. In many instances, something as simple as a Google search or check of a company’s online reviews can turn up relevant details.
In addition, the New York State Department of Transportation and September 2018 federal records deemed the limousine unfit for use. At that time, the vehicle was placed out of service and the owner was warned not to operate the vehicle.
In addition, according to the federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the vehicle was improperly classified given the number of seats it contained. Limousines can only have between 9 and 15 passengers, including the driver. Any automobile capable of carrying more, like this one, would need to be classified as a bus.
In details that have been revealed since the crash, New York State Governor Mario Cuomo revealed that the vehicle’s chassis, suspension and brakes were all unsafe. Furthermore, federal records show the company had four vehicles taken out of service after undergoing five inspections in the last two years, a whopping 80 percent failure rate.
Tragically, text messages that have been made public since the crash reveal that some of the victims complained about the shoddy condition of the vehicle and the loud noises they heard coming from the engine while they were en route to their destination.
Cuomo has also reported that the limousine driver, Scott Lisinicchia, did not have the proper commercial driver license (CDL) with a passenger endorsement that would be required to operate the vehicle. In addition, the driver had been charged with unlawful possession of marijuana in 2010. After being pulled over during a traffic stop in 2013, Lisinicchia was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of marijuana and an equipment violation.
Prestige Limousine Chauffeur Service had plenty of issues of its own. The company’s owner, Shahed Hussain, fled Pakistan in 1994 after being arrested for murder. He was able to escape, because his father paid a bribe of $1,350, allowing him to leave with a human trafficker and travel first from Moscow to Mexico and then into the United States. Hussain used a fake British passport to achieve this, according to court testimony heard in 2010.
Once settled in Albany, N.Y., Hussain was involved in a scheme where he conspired with a crooked DMV employee to sell fake driver licenses to immigrants. Instead of facing up to 25 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the federal fraud crime, he only paid a $100 fine and served no time, because he became an FBI informant. His work with the FBI led to the controversial arrest and conviction of several suspected terrorists.
In 2006, Hussain purchased a dilapidated motel and was sued for taking reservation money for unavailable rooms. In 2017, this property, the Crest Inn Suites and Cottages in Gansevoort, New York, failed two building inspections and was cited for several violations, including improper fittings and lack of support for the waste lines. At that time, all residents were forced to evacuate.
Hussain is believed to be back in Pakistan, but his son, Nauman Hussain, was arrested after the accident on charges of criminally negligent homicide. Nauman Hussain was caught by police in what appeared to be an attempt to flee in a vehicle filled with his personal belongings.
What can be done to prevent this sort of horrific incident?
Thorough personal research before committing to work done by contractors, maintenance workers or rentals of any kind is critical. It pays to be informed. Peruse Google, Yelp, Facebook, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List and other websites that might provide reviews of a company and listen to your gut. Speak to others who have used the companies you are considering and ask for their opinions. If something strikes you as problematic, absolutely do not move forward.
We recommend any company involved in the transportation industry conduct the following background investigation searches:
- Social Security and Address History Searches
- Statewide, Federal and Criminal Searches
- DMV Searches — reveals past violations or issues of licensure
- Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) — ensures companies aren’t doing business with firms being sanctioned by the U.S. or individuals involved in terrorism, narcotics and/or other disreputable activities
- Infinity Screening — periodic post-employment background investigations
- E-Verify — verifies an applicant’s legal eligibility to work in the U.S.
- Drug Screening
- Employment Verification
- Department of Transportation Verification — provides an applicant’s driving position safety performance history within the last 3 years
- Vendor Integrity Investigations — critical if you are hiring subcontractors on behalf of your place of employment
- Social Media Investigations — conducted on an ongoing basis, social media investigations provide a wealth of knowledge
- For New York State companies, we also recommend License Event Notification System (LENS) — automated reporting system that sends ongoing license record changes, such as accidents and convictions, by email
If something does turn up during the course of an investigation, you can use your judgment to determine whether it is a deal-breaker given your circumstances. Having this information on your side is critical, however, in protecting the well-being of your customers, employees, friends and family. It’s also essential when it comes to reducing your liability as a business owner. &