Owners of a New Jersey school bus company have been indicted, accused of providing false information to school districts in a conspiracy to conceal that they ran unsafe buses, hired unqualified drivers, and failed to conduct mandatory background checks and drug testing.
Ahmed Mahgoub, 53, his wife, Faiza Ibrahim, 48, and their company, F&A Transportation (doing business as Smart Union, Inc., and Unity Transportation, Inc.) face the following criminal charges:
- Conspiracy (second degree)
- False representations for a government contract (second degree)
- Theft by deception (second degree)
- Tampering with public records or information (third degree)
- Falsifying or tampering with records (fourth degree)
- Misconduct by a corporate official (second degree)
The indictment comes in the wake of an investigation by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) and the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau. It covers contracts that F&A secured between 2016 and 2020 with public school districts in Essex, Passaic, Morris, and Union counties, with an aggregate value of about $3.5 million.
Mahgoub and Ibrahim allegedly hired drivers who didn’t hold valid commercial driver’s licenses or lacked required license endorsements, and drivers who used illegal drugs or had criminal histories. Investigators also reported that they falsified vehicle inspection forms to indicate that their buses consistently passed pre- and post-trip inspections. These forms, which school districts rely upon as proof of bus safety, are maintained for review by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.
As SBF reported, in February 2019, an F&A Transportation employee named Lisa Byrd allegedly used heroin in the company parking lot in East Orange before climbing aboard a school bus to transport 12 special-needs children in Newark. During the route, authorities say, Byrd overdosed and wrecked the bus. Police at the scene used Narcan to revive her.
“Parents want to know their children are safe when they get on the bus to go to school each day,” said Andrew J. Bruck, acting attorney general of New Jersey, in a prepared statement. “We will not tolerate the type of flagrant and widespread safety violations alleged here, involving unfit drivers as well as unsafe buses.”
Col. Patrick J. Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, said in a statement: “When a parent entrusts a bus driver to safely transport their child to school, there should never be a concern that the individual behind the wheel may have a criminal record, may have failed a drug test, or may be operating an unsafe vehicle. The callous and irresponsible behavior displayed by the owners of this company is more than just a violation of trust, it knowingly placed children in danger.”
The second-degree crimes charged in the indictment carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of as much as $150,000. Third-degree crimes could lead to three to five years in prison and a fine of as much as $15,000. Fourth-degree crimes carry a sentence of as much as 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Peter Aseltine, public information officer for the attorney general’s office, said Mahgoub and Ibrahim will be ordered to appear in court for arraignment on the indictment, but arraignments had not yet been scheduled as of Tuesday.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office in March secured a similar indictment against Paterson, N.J.-based A-1 Elegant Tours, Inc., its owner, and its manager. Owner Shelim Khalique, 52, and manager Henry Rhodes, 57, allegedly employed many drivers without valid commercial licenses or required endorsements, and some with suspended licenses and/or criminal records.