PATERSON — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced that two brothers who operate a school bus company in Paterson were arrested Tuesday, Dec. 20, after they allegedly employed unqualified drivers — including some with suspended licenses, arrest records and criminal convictions — all while misleading public school districts about who was transporting their students to school.
Shelim Khalique, 53, of Wayne, and Jwel Khalique, 43, of Totowa, were taken into custody by the New Jersey State Police Tuesday and processed at Troop B Headquarters in Totowa on charges of conspiracy, false representation for a government contract and theft by deception. Jwel Khalique, the owner and president of Paterson-based American Star Transportation LLC, has been additionally charged with misconduct by a corporate official.
The pair is accused of knowingly misrepresenting the qualifications of the company, its drivers and aides in order to be awarded contracts to transport students by various school districts, including the Paterson, Jersey City, Mahwah, River Edge, and Franklin Lakes Public Schools, among others.
Investigators say that the equipment, assets and employees from another bus company owned by Shelim Khalique, A-1 Elegant Tours Inc., were transferred to American Star Transportation. A-1 Elegant Tours was brought up on criminal charges in June 2020 after being accused of similar misconduct, including allegedly providing false information to school districts to conceal the company’s hiring of unqualified drivers, its failure to conduct mandatory drug testing and criminal background checks on drivers and aides, and its operation of unsafe buses.
“Parents should not have to worry when they put their children on a school bus whether they will be driven to school safely by a professional driver who meets the requirements of state and federal law,” said Attorney General Platkin. “This company was entrusted with the precious lives of children every day, and its owners had a duty to hire competent, trustworthy employees to transport those children safely. But the business owners were putting those students’ lives in danger for profit.”
“It takes a special level of callousness to allow people facing criminal charges to get behind the wheels of school buses packed with children, while deceiving parents and school administrators about the risks those students are facing,” said OPIA Executive Director Tom Eicher. “These defendants allegedly tried to beat the system and evade rules designed to keep kids safe.”
The suspects are accused of submitting documents listing the names of certain drivers and aides that would purportedly staff school bus routes, when in fact other employees who were not properly licensed, and who in some cases had criminal backgrounds, were transporting the students while the listed drivers were assigned elsewhere.
One of American Star’s drivers was pulled over by a River Edge police officer on February 21, 2022 after the bus he was operating ran a stop sign. Investigators said the driver was found to be unlicensed and he had a pending case for patronizing a prostitute.
The investigation also revealed that the defendants and their accomplices employed numerous drivers who lacked valid commercial driver’s licenses or did not have CDLs with the required endorsements to carry children as passengers. OPIA investigators allege some of the drivers had suspended licenses, and in some cases, even though mandatory records of fingerprinting, background checks, and drug testing were incomplete, drivers were nonetheless allowed to drive students to and from school.
New Jersey laws and regulations require that school bus drivers and bus aides must undergo drug testing and criminal background checks, and drivers or aides with a criminal history or with known substance abuse issues are prohibited from driving school buses.
In addition, the Motor Vehicle Commission has issued numerous motor vehicle summonses to the company and conducted numerous inspections on its buses that, according to the AG’s Office, corroborate the false representations used to deceive public school districts into awarding American Star with contracts.
The investigation is being conducted by the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau, North Unit, and Deputy Attorneys General Samantha Thoma and Caroline A. Oliveira of the OPIA Corruption Bureau, under the supervision of Corruption Bureau Chief Peter Lee, OPIA Deputy Director Anthony Picione and OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher.
The charges are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.