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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 last 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 Tuesday 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 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.

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.

Hussain is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment on Friday in Elizabethtown before Clinton County Judge Keith Bruno, who has been assigned to 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.

Despite this, the indictment was expected, Shapiro said Tuesday.

“As they say, the district attorney can indict a ham sandwich,” he said. “All the grand jury hears is what the DA wants them to hear. There’s no refuting of anything. We’re all looking forward to him proving his innocence in court.”

Hussain was taking English lessons in Saranac Lake on Tuesday when Shapiro heard of the indictment. He said Hussain spends his days praying, exercising and talking to family in Kashmir.

“He’s running. He’s biking. He went to the beach up at Buck Pond with some friends yesterday,” Shapiro said. “He’s made quite a few friends in Saranac Lake. Everybody that meets him and talks to him says, ‘He’s a really nice guy. This is insane what’s going on.'”

A condition of Hussain’s release from jail requires him to stay in Essex or Franklin counties. In late April, Barrett asked the court to change the conditions so he could travel to a Kashmiri community in New York City that could support him.

Barrett said the request was rejected by the judge, although Shapiro described it more as being in “limbo.” St. Armand Justice Sheridan Swinyer passed the case off to county court in March, but Bruno said he didn’t have any jurisdiction until there was an indictment, Shapiro said, “so there was no way for him to change the bail.”

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