Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who covers criminal justice, terrorism and the courts for WNYC. She found her way into public radio after practicing law for five years, and can definitely say that walking the streets of New York City with a microphone is a lot more fun than being holed up in the office writing letters to opposing counsel.
Defense Lawyers In Bronx Synagogue Terror Case Call FBI Informant a Lifelong Liar
Thursday, September 16, 2010
If you're paid to lie, you have to be a skillful liar to do the job right. A natural.
That's how defense lawyers want to portray Shahed Hussain -- the confidential FBI informant at the center of the trial for four Newburgh men accused of trying to blow up Bronx synagogues and shoot down military planes in May 2009. Hussain is the government's main witness, and defense lawyers say he was a lifelong liar -- someone who could hardly be credible on a witness stand now.
"Everything coming out of your mouth was a lie for that 11-month period when you were meeting with these men, right?" asked defense lawyer Vincent Bricetti, who's representing the lead defendant, James Cromitie.
"Yes," replied Hussain.
And to do your job, Bricetti asked, "it's helpful to be a really good liar, isn't it?"
Hussain was paid by the FBI to impersonate a wealthy businessman with ties to a Pakistani terrorist organization. The FBI hired him to scope out upstate mosques and listen for radical Muslims. Cromitie and the three other defendants -- David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen -- now say they were illegally entrapped by Hussain and his FBI handlers, and were pressured and bribed to commit crimes they would have never committed on their own.
In his second day under cross-examination, Hussain admitted to several falsehoods he told well before he masqueraded as a hateful Muslim bent on attacking Jews. When he was going through bankruptcy, he never told the court he actually had access to half a million dollars of family "trust funds." When he was arrested for helping people illegally obtain driver's licenses, he told his probation officer his father had died years before, but that wasn't true.
He also admitted lying to the New York State Board of Education about where he actually lived so he could get his son placed in a particular school. And when he applied for political asylum, he told immigration officials he had been tortured by the Pakistani government in 1994. An odd claim, defense lawyers say, given Hussain's other testimony that he was close family friends with Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's prime minister at the time. They were such close friends, Hussain testified, that Bhutto had given his son $40,000 in cash to buy a Mercedes.
Political asylum, Bricetti suggested in his questioning, was a way for Hussain to get green cards for his family. Although well-educated in Pakistan and part of a wealthy family, Hussain was determined to live and stay in the United States, defense lawyers say. When he faced deportation after being convicted of a felony, they say he was only too eager to make a deal with the government to cooperate as an informant, even agreeing to attend a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.
"I love to work for the FBI," Hussain said on the stand. "I enjoy the work I do, that's why I do it."
Moments later, defense lawyer Susanne Brody asked him, "Would you agree that remaining in the United States is worth more than all the money you have been paid for your work as an informant?"
"Yes," Hussain responded.
But the government says Hussain isn't the one on trial, and in the end, the four defendants were caught on tape planning a bomb attack and actually positioning fake bombs.