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AG Platkin: Previously Indicted Paterson School Bus Company Operator Indicted Again for Allegedly Continuing to Use Unqualified School Bus Drivers and Failing to Pay Tens of Thousands in Tolls

PATERSON — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced a new indictment against Shelim Khalique, the operator of a pair of Paterson school bus companies who had been previously indicted in June 2020 for allegedly using unqualified drivers to operate school buses and misleading public-school districts. On Wednesday, June 28, 2023, the state grand jury returned a superseding indictment in the case that includes charges stemming from the role that Khalique, 53, of Wayne, played in continuing to operate school buses 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 stemming from tens of thousands of dollars in outstanding tolls those buses allegedly racked up with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

The new indictment also brings charges against Shelim’s brother, Jwel Khalique, 44, of Totowa, 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 was originally charged back in June 2020. In addition to A-1’s contracts, the superseding indictment covers contracts American Star itself had to transport students with various school districts.

It is alleged that the suspects ordered employees of American Star who were not properly licensed and who in some cases had criminal convictions or 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.

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 Platkin. “We previously alleged that this operation ignored its responsibilities to school districts and students. Now we are learning the business and its managers allegedly opted not to pay highway tolls that countless other law-abiding drivers in New Jersey pay daily.”

“This company’s fleet of buses was allegedly getting a free ride on the Parkway and the Turnpike at the expense of the Turnpike Authority and other motorists,” said Thomas Eicher, Executive Director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA). “A-1 Elegant acted as if it was exempt from obligations the rest of us take for granted. Hopefully this indictment will make it clear that no company can simply ignore its obligations.”

The investigation is being conducted by the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau, North Unit, and Deputy Attorneys General Samantha Thoma and Jeffrey Manis of the OPIA Corruption Bureau, under the supervision of Corruption Bureau Chief Peter Lee, OPIA Deputy Director Anthony Picione and OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher.

The charges are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

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