Two brothers who run a school bus company in Paterson, N.J., were arrested after the state’s attorney general accused them of employing unqualified drivers – some with suspended licenses, arrest records, and criminal convictions – while misleading school districts about who was transporting their students.
Shelim and Jwel Khalique of American Star Transportation LLC were taken into custody by New Jersey State Police on Dec. 20 on charges including:
- False representation for a government contract.
- Theft by deception.
Investigators also charged Jwel Kalique, the owner and president of American Star Transportation, with misconduct by a corporate official.
The pair is accused of knowingly misrepresenting the qualifications of the company, its drivers, and aides, so American Star could win contracts to transport students in various school districts, including Paterson, Jersey City, Mahwah, River Edge, and Franklin Lakes Public Schools.
It’s not the first run-in with the law for the Khalique brothers, who built American Star with equipment, assets, and employees from another bus company – A-1 Elegant Tours - owned by Shelim Khalique. That company faced criminal charges over similar misconduct in 2020, such as:
- Allegedly providing false information to school districts to conceal the company’s hiring of unqualified drivers.
- Failure to conduct mandatory drug testing and criminal background checks on drivers and aides.
- 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 Matthew J. 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 Tom Eicher, executive director of New Jersey’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. “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 Feb. 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.
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