Councilman Shahin Khalique’s brothers received $1.75 million in busing contracts from the Paterson Public Schools in the 2016-17 academic year, according documents the district released through an open records request.
The district awarded $1.58 million in contracts to Summit-based A-1 Elegant Tours and $163,855 in contracts to Totowa-based American Star Transportation. Both companies are owned by Khalique’s brothers: A-1 Elegant Tours by Shelim Khalique and American Star Transportation by Jwel Khalique.
Khalique, who represents the 2nd Ward, is listed as the chief executive officer of A-1 Elegant Tours in one of his LinkedIn business profiles while as head of Northern Star Transportation of Newark in another.
His rise to political office and support for some school board members has led to questions about the contracts. The family received more contracts in 2016-17 than in the past years. For example, A-1 Elegant Tours received $439,260 in contracts in 2013-14 school year. Numbers were not immediately on hand for subsequent years. Now, it receives contracts exceeding a million dollars.
A second Khalique firm, American Star Transportation, appears to have started receiving contracts in 2016-17 school year. The company was formed in 2013. It’s not clear whether it received smaller contracts in previous years.
“There’s absolutely no question the increase you’re seeing now is a direct result of political linkage between himself [councilman Khalique] and those members,” said former school board member Errol Kerr. “This guy made serious contributions to their campaigns and those contributions were never reported.”
Kerr is speaking of the councilman’s support for school board members Christopher Irving, Flavio Rivera, and Manny Martinez. Khalique’s campaign workers were outside of John F. Kennedy High School on election day last year handing out flyers and exhorting voters to cast their ballots in favor of the three board members and other Democratic Party candidates.
Literature handed out by Khalique’s people did not have the legally required “paid for by” label. Among those handing out flyers that day was Joyed Rohim, a relative of Khalique’s. Khalique is running Rohim for a school board seat in the November school board election.
Kerr said Khalique made an investment in the three members that’s paying returns. “It’s an extraordinary coincidence” that the family is receiving more business after supporting the three men, said school board member Jonathan Hodges.
Irving, Rivera, and Martinez rejected the assertion that there’s a connection between the support received from Khalique and the contracts.
“It’s absurd. All of those contracts are bids,” said school board president Irving. Contracts are awarded to the lowest bidders, he said. “There’s no way I can get involved in it.”
“He’s not going to admit it,” said Kerr of Irving’s response.
Rivera and Martinez described the suggestion that political support is yielding contracts as a conspiracy. “They always have all of these conspiracy theories,” said Rivera. “There’s no room there to maneuver, to give a contract, at least a biddable contract.”
The Khalique family has been doing business with the district going back a decade. A-1 Elegant Tours has been receiving contracts going at least as far back as 2007. The firm has had a squabble few years ago with the district which resulted in route reductions, according to Kerr.
A-1 Elegant Tours was also sued by a Totowa man in 2015. The lawsuit which stemmed from a real estate sale dispute alleged A-1 Elegant Tours was being operated as a corrupt enterprise by Shelim Khalique.
Shelim Khalique denied the allegations in court filings. Neither Shelim Khalique nor Shahin Khalique returned calls for comment for this report.
The 2nd Ward councilman, who spent $112,000 to win his council seat and another estimated $150,000 in legal expenses to keep it, has been building influence on the school board. Not only is he running a candidate in this year’s race, he also has managed to get one of his devoted followers, Harun Miah, on the superintendent search committee.
Rivera nominated Miah and Irving appointed him. When asked about the nomination, Rivera said he nominated Miah as a way to have a voice from the city’s Bengali-American community on the committee.