Indian snowshoer charged with sexual abuse

Tanveer Hussain, left, is led out of the St. Armand Town Hall on March 1 by Saranac Lake village Patrolman Luke Cromp. Hussain, visiting from India to race in the prior weekend's World Snowshoe Championships, was arraigned in town court on charges of sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

SARANAC LAKE — Village police Wednesday arrested a snowshoe racer from India, whom the community wholeheartedly welcomed for this past weekend’s World Snowshoe Championships, after a local girl accused him of sexually abusing her.

Tanveer Hussain, 24, of Kashmir, India, stands charged with first-degree sexual abuse, a felony, and endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor. First-degree sexual abuse, according to New York law, means the perpetrator “subjects another person to sexual contact” without consent, in this case because the alleged victim is under age 13 and legally too young to give consent.

Police Sgt. Casey Reardon said the girl and her parents reported the alleged abuse to police. It allegedly took place around 5 p.m. Monday at a location on Park Avenue in the town of St. Armand portion of the village, but Reardon didn’t give more specifics. He did not give the girl’s exact age or identity.

After the complaint, Reardon said police located Hussain around noon today while he was walking down Bloomingdale Avenue.

“We approached with him, and he came with us willingly and has been cooperative since,” Reardon said.

Abid Khan, the other snowshoer who came here from Kashmir for the world championships, says Hussain told him he is innocent. Khan spoke to the Enterprise Wednesday evening at the St. Armand Town Hall in Bloomingdale, as he was waiting for Hussain to be arraigned in town court. Saranac Lake no longer has its own court, so its criminal cases are handled in the courts of the three towns that converge in the village.

Khan said the girl had followed him and Hussain around in an affectionate way during their stay here. He called her “a nutcase.”

One day when they returned to the Porcupine Inn on Park Avenue, where they had been staying, Khan said they found the girl playing pool with other guests.

“We didn’t invite her,” he said.

Khan said Hussain told him the girl tried to make an advance on him, but he turned her away.

“He says there was no contact at all,” Khan said. “‘She tried to come. I pushed her back.’ After that, he said he came back toward us and told her to go back home.”

Khan said Hussain’s interaction with the girl at that time only lasted about 30 seconds.

“It wasn’t like a half-hour or 15 minutes,” he said. “No time was spent together.”

Asked if he believes the girl made up the story because Hussain rejected her affections, Khan said “maybe.”

Reardon, asked about Khan’s account, said police have enough evidence for probable cause.

“We’re confident in our investigation and the results of it,” he said. “There were other witnesses. Social media was involved. There’s evidence that supports the charges.”

Khan, 34, is president of the Snowshoe Federation of India. He didn’t compete in Saturday’s races. Khan said the younger Hussain “is more of a naive kind of person.

“He is not aware that she is minor in first place,” he said. “We told him later that she is a minor. He doesn’t understand proper English, so he doesn’t know.”

Khan added that he and Hussain are embarrassed by this situation, both for themselves and for Saranac Lake.

“It’s embarrassment because people gave us love, respect, everything,” he said. “They opened their hearts to us. I am more responsible because it should not have happened. I’m the guy who is here representing everything. It’s even more embarrassment for the people of Saranac (Lake). We’ll not be able to show our face to them again.”

Hussain and Khan were celebrities here at this weekend’s snowshoe events due to the effort it took to get them here. Three weeks ago, the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi denied their visa applications, reportedly thinking they might not return home due to a lack of “strong ties” to their home country. Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who had met them at last year’s championships in Italy and invited them to come here, reached out for help from New York’s U.S. senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. Seventh-graders from Saranac Lake Middle School wrote letters to the senators on the Indians’ behalf. As their plight drew media attention here and in their home country, the senators contacted the embassy, which let the men resubmit their visa applications — and approved them.

The visa denial happened around the same time President Donald Trump issued an order barring travel into the U.S. from seven countries. India was not one of them, but many local people associated the two developments and went out of their way to welcome these Muslim foreigners.

Saranac Lakers have poured out their hearts to these men since they arrived Thursday. Porcupine owner Fred Mazzeo offered them lodging free of charge and picked them up from the airport in Burlington, Vermont. Some restaurants offered them free meals. Rabideau started a crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $1,600 in seven days to cover some of their travel expenses. Hussain and Khan spoke to the middle schoolers Friday and showed them videos of Kashmir and its winter recreation. The pair got some of the biggest cheers of the night at Friday’s opening ceremonies.

Mazzeo, reached by phone at his inn early Wednesday evening, said he had been in Plattsburgh all day and knew nothing of the arrest.

“I’m shocked,” he said. “They couldn’t be nicer.”

Told of the nature of the charges, he expressed even greater shock.

Mazzeo said the snowshoers are still staying at his inn, but “I really didn’t see very much of them after the first few days.” He said local residents invited the men over for dinner in recent days, and they had an event scheduled later in the week at Paul Smith’s College. He wasn’t sure what day they planned to leave.

Mazzeo said he noticed nothing unusual about them.

“They were both very polite,” he said.

Back at the town hall in Bloomingdale, the arraignment was delayed while town Justice Sheridan Swinyer found a lawyer for Hussain due to a conflict with the Essex County public defender’s office.

The judge eventually got Brian Barrett of Lake Placid, who met with his client behind closed doors. There was a question about whether a court-certified interpreter is needed, as Khan, the only interpreter available at the time, could be a witness. Barrett made calls seeking outside advice on the matter, and when Hussain was finally arraigned, Khan was sworn in as an interpreter.

Barrett entered a not-guilty plea on Hussain’s behalf.

“I couldn’t have entered anything else but a not-guilty, based on the information I had,” Barrett said. “Based on the limited communications I could have with Mr. Hussain, it didn’t allow for me to properly evaluate the case and make an informed decision on behalf of my client.

“These are allegations,” Barrett added. “They’re merely allegations alone. Not only is he innocent, he is presumed innocent by law. That’s how he should be seen in the community and by anyone paying attention in this case.”

Hussain and Khan had planned to return home Thursday. A visibly upset Hussain, with hands shackled and still wearing a maroon World Snowshoe Championships hat, pleaded with the judge not to send him to jail.

“Sir, please,” he said. “Help me.”

Swinyer decided not to accept a plea because he wasn’t sure if Hussain fully understood the charges against him. He remanded him to the Essex County Jail in Lewis in lieu of $5,000 cash bail or $10,000 bond, less than the $10,000 cash and $20,000 recommended by the county district attorney’s office. A preliminary hearing on his case is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday.

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