A New Jersey state grand jury on June 28 returned a new superseding indictment against Shelim Khalique, operator of a pair of Paterson school bus companies who originally had been indicted in June 2020 for allegedly using unqualified drivers to operate school buses and misleading school districts.
The new indictment includes charges stemming from the role that Khalique, 53, played in continuing to operate school bus in Paterson and elsewhere with unqualified drivers – even after his original indictment – through another company.
The superseding indictment adds a new count of second-degree theft of services based on tens of thousands of dollars in outstanding tolls those buses allegedly racked up with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.
History of the Khalique School Transportation Case
The new indictment also brings charges against Shelim’s brother, Jwel Khalique, 44, and American Star Transportation LLC, a bus company that inherited most, if not all, of the buses, equipment, assets, and employees belonging to A-1 Elegant Tours Inc., after A-1 originally was charged in June 2020. Besides A-1’s contracts, the superseding indictment covers contracts that American Star itself had to transport students with various school districts.
It is alleged that the suspects ordered improperly licensed employees – and in some cases with criminal convictions or who were under criminal investigation – to transport students.
The investigation revealed that the defendants and their accomplices employed numerous drivers who lacked valid commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) or did not have CDLs with the required endorsements to carry children as passengers. Investigators with the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) 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.
Beyond the Original Indictments
The new indictment further alleges that buses from Khalique’s A-1 Elegant Tours used toll roads regulated by the Turnpike Authority and routinely failed to pay the tolls, amassing an overdue bill exceeding $75,000.
Shelim Khalique, A-1 and A-1’s manager, Henry Rhodes, were initially charged on June 25, 2020 in an investigation by OPIA, the New Jersey State Police, Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, and Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office.
The defendants were accused of providing false information to school districts in connection with contracts to cover up the fact that the company hired unqualified drivers, failed to conduct mandatory drug testing and criminal background checks for drivers and aides, and operated unsafe buses, all in violation of contract terms and state requirements.
The investigation found that after the defendants were indicted by the state grand jury, the equipment, assets and employees of A-1 Elegant were transferred to a different company, American Star, owned by Jwel Khalique.
It is alleged that similar improprieties continued at American Star and in December 2022, Shelim and Jwel Khalique were arrested on charges that included conspiracy, false representation for a government contract, and theft by deception.
Rhodes, 59, of Paterson, a manager at both bus companies, pleaded guilty in March 2023 in state Superior Court in Essex County to counts relating to A-1 Elegant and American Star: namely, two counts of second-degree conspiracy and two counts of second-degree theft by deception for conduct stemming from his involvement with the two bus companies.
As part of the plea agreement, Rhodes agreed to be barred from doing business with the State of New Jersey or any of its administrative or political subdivisions for a decade. As a result, he cannot personally or through any business entity submit a bid, enter into any contract, or conduct any business with any board, agency, authority, or other body of the state.
“As more allegations emerge about these bus companies and their management, increasingly a picture emerges of businesses allegedly under the impression that rules and requirements could be shrugged off at will,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “We previously alleged that this operation ignored its responsibilities to school districts and students. Now we are learning the business and its managers opted not to pay highway tolls that countless other law-abiding drivers in New Jersey pay daily.”