Indian snowshoe racer accepts plea deal, awaits deportation
SARANAC LAKE — A snowshoe racer visiting from India, accused of inappropriate romantic contact with a 12-year-old girl here, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor Wednesday.
Tanveer Hussain, 25, of India’s Kashmir region, admitted in court to endangering the welfare of a child. He had been indicted on a heavier charge as well — sexual abuse, a felony, plus a second count of endangering the welfare of a child — but prosecutors were willing to pass on that to get a guilty plea without going to trial.
The Essex County district attorney’s office said it had offered Hussain this same plea deal when he was first arraigned in court, right after his March 1 arrest. Hussain wouldn’t accept it at the time, insisting he was innocent.
Now, as part of the deal, Hussain will be sentenced to time served in jail, a surcharge, a DNA sample and a fee as well as a final order of protection for the child.
Deportation proceedings have begun. Federal agents took Hussain to the Clinton County Jail in Plattsburgh, and from there he will transferred to a federal detention facility in Batavia.
Prosecutors said the charge Hussain pleaded guilty to was about inappropriate communications he had with the girl.
“Such communications were not age-appropriate and of a sexual and romantic nature,” the DA’s office said in a press release.
The felony charge, which has been dropped, had to do with the girl’s allegation that Hussain kissed with an open mouth and groped her breast.
“She has been vindicated”
Essex County DA Kristy Sprague said in a press release that “From day one of this investigation, the child witness has been degraded, called a liar and victimized by people who supported Hussain financially and emotionally. This plea of guilty is an admission of guilt, and Tanveer Hussain admitted to his criminal conduct involving a child, which was done under oath and with aid of [legal] counsel and an interpreter. I hope that this admission of guilt alleviates the stress and anguish this child and her family have endured. She has been vindicated, and shame on those who publicly attacked her credibility and reputation. She is a child and the defendant an adult male, and she should never have been subjected to such cruelty and insults.”
Sprague added that the plea deal saves the girl from having to testify in court and saves the county thousands of dollars since a Kashmiri interpreter would be needed for each day of a trial.
“Now, there are no rights to appeal, no hefty bill left to the taxpayers of this county, and the child can rest assured she will not be harmed by this man again,” Sprague said.
Saranac Lake village police investigated the case, with help from the state police Computer Crimes Unit in Ray Brook, and brought eyewitness evidence as well as electronic communications between Hussain and the girl.
In Hussain’s defense
The girl said Hussain groped her on Feb. 27, two days after the World Snowshoe Championships, for which he had come to Saranac Lake. He was arrested two days after that. Since then he has lived in Saranac Lake in the home of village Trustee Rich Shapiro and his wife Lindy Ellis, who bailed him out of jail.
Shapiro said Thursday that the deportation proceedings brought by the DA through Immigration and Customs Enforcement are vindictive and unnecessary. Shapiro said Hussain’s visa expired in August and he wants to go home, adding that Hussain’s mother has been ill and put off a surgery until he returned, and his sister postponed her wedding. Hussain had plans to fly out of JFK airport in New York City on Sunday, Shapiro said.
Instead, Shapiro said Hussain will be transported Friday to Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, where he will stand before an immigration judge. This process can take anywhere from two weeks to four months due to backlog, according to Shapiro.
“They want him out of the country so badly that they won’t let him leave,” Shapiro said. “The DA has managed to drag this out as long as possible to wear him down and to get him to say, ‘OK, I’ll admit to something; just let me go home.'”
Shapiro said Hussain made it clear in court that he pleaded guilty out of desperation and maintains his innocence in actuality.
“Even yesterday, as he was admitting his guilt, his response was, ‘I’m pleading guilty of this so I can go home,'” Shapiro said.
Shapiro said Hussain was the breadwinner for his mother and two younger siblings after his father’s death and lost his job in India as a result of being stuck in the U.S. More than a dozen letters of support from members of the local community, including Shapiro and his wife, are being sent to his former employer asking for him to be accepted back at his previous job.
Lawyer Peter Dumas of Malone defended Hussain but was in court Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
Hussain’s arrest earlier this year made headlines around the world. He and his manager, Abid Khan, had fought to get to the World Snowshoe Championships, and the local community had fought to get them here.
The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi initially denied their visa applications. Some people thought that decision had to do with President Donald Trump’s executive order barring travel into the U.S. from seven foreign countries — even though India wasn’t one of them — since the visa denial happened the same weekend the order was issued. U.S. officials later said the denial had no connection to Trump’s executive order. They reportedly feared Hussain and Khan might not return home due to a lack of “strong ties” to their home country.
At the request of village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, New York’s senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand contacted the embassy in New Delhi. Hussain and Khan were later told they could reapply for visas and were eventually approved to travel here.
When they arrived in February, they got a celebrity welcome. Rabideau hosted a reception for them in the village offices. They were given free lodging at a local bed and breakfast. Restaurants offered them free meals. Local residents donated more than $1,600 on a crowdsourcing website the mayor started to cover some of their travel expenses.
The day before the snowshoe races, Hussain and Khan met with Saranac Lake Middle School seventh-graders, who had written letters on their behalf to Schumer and Gillibrand. The girl who later alleged Hussain abused her was in the audience. She also approached Hussain and Khan at the finish line after the race.
She told police Hussain kissed and groped her at the B&B, where she had gone to see him.
Khan previously told the Enterprise the girl had followed him and Hussain around in an affectionate way during their stay in Saranac Lake. Khan said Hussain told him the girl tried to make an advance on him that night at the B&B, but he turned her away.
She and her mother later went to police after the mother found messages between the girl and Hussain on her cellphone.
Shapiro later said many of the messages were written by a friend of Hussain in India who texted back to Hussain how to respond to the girl.