A grand jury indicted a school bus company, its owner, and a manager for allegedly using unsafe buses and unqualified drivers with criminal records to transport students, announced New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
Shelim Khalique, 52, of Wayne; Henry Rhodes, 57, of Paterson; and A-1 Elegant Tours, doing business as Eastern Star Transportation, were indicted by a state grand jury on Tuesday on charges of conspiracy, false representations for a government contract, theft by deception, tampering with public records or information, and falsifying or tampering with records.
Khalique (left) and Rhodes (right) were also charged with misconduct by a corporate official.
“This indictment is an important step in our prosecution of these defendants, who we charge jeopardized the safety of children and lied to conceal their egregious conduct,” said Grewal. “The defendants allegedly had unqualified drivers, convicted felons, and narcotics users drive and supervise children— frequently in unsafe buses. We’ll continue to investigate and aggressively prosecute this type of criminal conduct, because we have no higher priority than protecting children.”
A-1 Elegant Tours employed many drivers without valid commercial driver’s licenses or required endorsements. It also had drivers with suspended licenses and criminal records. It also employed bus aides with criminal records.
New Jersey State Police, Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, and Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation into the company in 2019. They seized personnel files in a raid that year. Fingerprinting, background checks, and drug testing files were missing from the personnel records, said authorities. Two of the company’s drivers were charged for driving while under the influence of drugs with children on board. One crashed the bus; and another was a registered sex offender.
“It is painfully apparent that the operators of this company lost their moral compass, putting profit above safety by placing innocent children on buses unfit for the road, which were operated by unqualified drivers, who in many instances had criminal records,” said Patrick Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.
Khalique is the brother of councilman Shahin Khalique.
“The criminal conduct alleged in this case came to our attention when there were incidents in Essex County of school bus drivers operating under the influence or without the proper credentials,” said acting Essex County prosecutor Theodore Stephens. “The idea that anyone would allow young school children to be transported by drivers who not only lacked the proper credentials but, in some cases, were high on narcotics or had serious criminal records is extraordinarily troubling.”
Khalique and Rhodes were initially charged with complaint-summons in June 2020.
A-1 Elegant Tours had contracts with school districts in Essex, Hudson, Passaic, and Union counties from 2016 to 2020. The indictment is related to contracts in Essex County. The company had more than $1 million worth of contracts with various districts at the time.
“A-1 put the lives of many children at risk with its illegal activities,” said Passaic County prosecutor Camelia Valdes.
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