A couple that ran a troubled East Orange bus company that put students at risk — including Paterson children – by using unqualified drivers and unsafe buses is facing criminal charges, announced New Jersey attorney general Gurbir Grewal on Thursday morning.
Ahmed Mahgoub, 62, and his wife, Faiza Ibrahim, 47, both of East Hanover, were charged with conspiracy, false representations for a government contract, theft by deception, tampering with public records or information, and misconduct by a corporate official.
Mahgoub and Ibrahim owned and operated F&A Transportation, Inc., which also did business as Smart Union, Inc. and Unity Transportation. From 2015 through 2020, F&A Transportation secured $3.5 million contracts from public schools in Essex, Passaic, Morris, and Union counties. Both knowingly hired drivers without valid commercial driver’s licenses or required endorsements. Some of the drivers had criminal records and were using drugs, according to authorities.
Mahgoub and Ibrahim also allegedly falsified vehicle inspection forms to show their vehicles passed before and after-trip company inspections. Those forms were submitted to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. Authorities said school districts rely on those forms to ensure the buses are safe for students.
Last February, a bus driver employed by the company used heroin in the company’s parking lot in East Orange before boarding a bus to transport 12 special needs students in Newark. The employee overdosed behind the wheels and crashed the bus into the wall of a building. Police had to revive the driver using Narcan, according to authorities.
F&A Transportation had been cited by the Paterson Public Schools for safety violations. Last June, a driver for the company was banned from ever transporting Paterson students.
“This is the second time in four months that we have filed serious criminal charges against a school bus company and its operators for allegedly putting children in jeopardy by hiring unqualified drivers, using unsafe buses, and falsifying records to cover up their conduct,” said Grewal. “No parent should have to worry about the condition of their child’s school bus or question whether their child’s bus driver might be a felon or someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol. No child should ever be put in danger that way.”
A-1 Elegant Tours was banned by the Paterson Public Schools for two years in 2018.
School bus drivers in New Jersey must have a valid commercial driver’s license with endorsements to carry students as passengers. Bus drivers and bus aides have to pass a drug screening and criminal background check. Drivers and aides with criminal history or known drug problems are barred from driving school buses, according to authorities.
Mahgoub and Ibrahim allegedly provided districts false information about the qualifications of their drivers and aides. Both allegedly employed drivers that they knew had drug problems. They also employed “numerous” drivers that lacked commercial licenses, had suspended license, and lacked endorsements.
Some drivers were hired without background checks.
An audit by the state found the company listed 51 drivers in its roster. Four drivers’ files were missing, 23 had no driver’s abstracts, 2 had expired abstracts, 11 had no physical exams, 13 had expired physical exams, and 4 had expired copies of driver’s licenses. Just 9 files were complete.
Mahgoub and Ibrahim allegedly forged, reused, and or falsified pre and post-trip driver’s vehicle inspection reports that the firm is required to complete and keep on file. Last February and August, the state inspected F&A buses, nearly all of the buses failed inspection on both occasions.
Paterson school board member Emanuel Capers, who railed against both companies for violations and putting students at risk over the years, said, “It’s about time the state is cracking down on a lot of these fraudulent bus companies.”
Capers’ effort led to the two-year ban against A-1 Elegant Tours in 2018. He has proposed bringing busing in-house in Paterson to avoid putting students at risk, but district officials have said it’s too costly.
Mahgoub and Ibrahim face a maximum of 45 years in prison if convicted on the charges.
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