Indian snowshoer indicted on sex abuse charge

Tanveer Hussain (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

SARANAC LAKE — An Essex County grand jury has indicted Tanveer Hussain for allegedly having inappropriate contact with a 12-year-old Saranac Lake girl.

The grand jury returned the indictment Wednesday against the 25-year-old from Kashmir, India, charging him with one count of first-degree sexual abuse, a felony, and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, according to a press release Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague issued this afternoon. Saranac Lake village police had arrested Hussain on the same charges on March 1, two days after he competed in the World Snowshoe Championships at Dewey Mountain Recreation Center.

“Hussain is alleged to have subjected a 12 year old female to sexual contact and engaged in inappropriate conversations with said child during the time he was in Saranac Lake,” Sprague wrote.

The girl told police that on the night of Feb. 27, two days after the snowshoe race, Hussain kissed her twice with an open mouth and groped one of her breasts.

Hussain has previously denied the charges and declined a plea deal that would have let him return to India because he wants to clear his name. For the past five months, Hussain has been living in the home of village Trustee Rich Shapiro and his wife Lindy Ellis, who bailed him out of the Essex County Jail, awaiting the next court proceedings in the case.

Hussain’s lawyer, Brian Barrett of Lake Placid, said this afternoon that he hadn’t heard about the indictment until this reporter told him about it. He said was disappointed that Sprague announced it in a press release before notifying him.

“This is all about the press,” Barrett said. “That’s what this whole case is all about.”

An indictment is when a grand jury, a specialty jury of citizens who handle multiple cases, decides there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.

An arraignment date in Superior Court has not yet been set, Sprague said. Judge Keith Bruno is set to preside over the case.

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.

Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau reached out for help from New York’s senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who 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 the Porcupine Inn 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. They fielded questions from the group and showed them a series of winter recreation videos filmed in Kashmir. The girl who later alleged Hussain abused her was in the audience.

She told police Hussain kissed and groped her at the Porcupine, where she had gone to see him. In a separate statement to police, the girl’s mother said she saw Facebook messages from Hussain on her daughter’s phone that indicated the two had “made out” and that Hussain had touched the girl’s breasts.

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 Porcupine, but he turned her away.

Shapiro has said he’s seen the Facebook messages between the girl and Hussain. He hasn’t been willing to provide them to the Enterprise because the case is still pending, but he claims many of them were written by a friend in India who texted back to Hussain how to respond. Shapiro also claims Hussain made no admission in the messages that he touched the girl inappropriately.

Barrett said he and Hussain knew the case was going to be presented to a grand jury last week. Asked about the indictment, he said, “I look forward to testing the evidence in front of a jury,” and declined to elaborate.

“(Hussain) is presumed innocent by law, and certainly no one has any reason not to presume him innocent in this case,” Barrett said.

In late April, Barrett asked Bruno to change his client’s bail conditions so he doesn’t have to stay in just Essex and Franklin counties. He wanted Hussain to be able to travel to a Kashmiri community in New York City that could support him. Barrett said today that the judge denied his request for a bail modification.