City Council president Shahin Khalique’s two brothers were arrested on Tuesday for allegedly employing unqualified drivers to transport students and lying to school districts to secure busing contracts.
Shelim Khalique, 53, of Wayne, and Jwel Khalique, 43, of Totowa, were arrested and processed at the New Jersey State Police barracks in Totowa on charges of conspiracy, false representation for a government contract and theft by deception. Jwel, owner of American Star Transportation, has been also charged with misconduct by a corporate official.
Both knowingly misrepresented the qualifications of the company, its drivers, and aides for school bus contracts in Paterson, Jersey City, and Mahwah, River Edge, and Franklin Lakes school districts.
“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 New Jersey Attorney General Matthew 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.”
American Star Transportation took over the equipment, assets, and employees Shelim’s company A-1 Elegant Tours. Shelim and A-1 Elegant Tours were criminally charged in 2020 for using unsafe buses and unqualified drivers to transport students.
Shelim was also charged with election fraud for his role in his brother, Shahin Khalique’s re-election campaign, in 2020.
Shelim and Jwel submitted false documents listing names of drivers and aides that would staff school bus routes. However, the routes were actually staffed by unqualified people, in some cases with criminal backgrounds, authorities said.
For example, one American Star driver was pulled over in River Edge by police on Feb. 21, 2022 after the bus ran a stop sign. The driver was found unlicensed and pending a case for patronizing a prostitute.
Authorities said Shelim, Jwel, 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.
Some drivers had suspended licenses. Some had incomplete fingerprinting, background checks, and drug testing. State law requires school bus drivers and aides to undergo drug testing and background checks. Drivers and aides with criminal history or substance abuse problems are barred from driving school buses.
New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission has issued numerous motor vehicle summonses to the company and conducted numerous inspections that supported the assertions the company made false representations to deceive school districts to win contracts.
“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 Thomas Eicher, executive director for the Office of Public Integrity & Accountability. “These defendants allegedly tried to beat the system and evade rules designed to keep kids safe.”