Investigation alleges school bus company put students at risk

Owners of a New Jersey school bus company are facing charges for allegedly providing false information to school districts 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.

Ahmed Mahgoub, 62, and his wife, Faiza Ibrahim, 47, both of East Hanover, New Jersey, are the owners of F&A Transportation Inc., based primarily in East Orange.

The defendants 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 in an investigation by the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability and the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau. 

The alleged criminal conduct relates to $3.5 million in contracts that F&A secured from 2015 through 2020 with public school districts in Essex, Passaic, Morris, and Union counties. 

Illegal drug use

The couple allegedly knowingly hired drivers who did not hold valid commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) or required license endorsements, as well as drivers who had criminal histories or were using illegal drugs. They also allegedly falsified vehicle inspection forms to indicate their buses consistently passed required pre- and post-trip company inspections. Those forms must be maintained for review by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) and are relied upon by school districts as proof of bus safety.

In February 2019, an employee of F&A allegedly used heroin in F&A’s parking lot in East Orange before boarding a school bus to transport 12 special-needs children in Newark. While driving with the children on board, the employee allegedly overdosed and crashed the school bus into the wall of a building. Police who arrived on the scene used naloxone to revive the employee.

“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. We’ll continue to take strong action to investigate and prosecute any bus company operators who flout the laws and requirements put in place to protect our children,” said state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. 

State regulations

New Jersey laws and regulations require that all school bus drivers possess a valid CDL with two additional endorsements to carry students as passengers. School bus drivers and bus aides are also required to undergo drug testing and criminal background checks, and drivers or aides with a criminal history or with known substance abuse issues are prohibited from driving school buses.

The defendants allegedly falsely represented the qualifications of their drivers and aides, including licensing and background check information, as well as the condition of their vehicles. They thereby misrepresented that the company and its drivers and aides were qualified under state, federal, and local law, as well as the terms of their contracts, to provide school busing services to students.

Interviews with bus drivers employed by F&A revealed that the defendants allegedly employed drivers who had known substance abuse problems. They also allegedly employed numerous drivers who either did not have valid CDLs, did not have required endorsements, or had suspended licenses. They allegedly hired drivers before completion of criminal background checks or, in some instances, without any criminal background check.

Driver files

The defendants allegedly forged, reused, or otherwise falsified pre- and post-trip driver’s vehicle inspection reports that the company is required to complete and maintain. They allegedly falsely indicated that their buses consistently passed company inspections. In February and August of 2019, the MVC inspected F&A’s buses, and nearly all of the company’s buses failed inspection on both occasions.

When the MVC audited F&A’s driver files, it found that of the 51 drivers listed on F&A’s roster, four driver files were missing, 23 had no driver’s abstracts, two had expired abstracts, 11 had no physical exams, 13 had expired physical exams and four had expired copies of driver’s licenses. Only nine files were complete. The defendants allegedly told drivers to evade MVC inspections at school sites. They allegedly concealed violations by covertly directing persons employed as aides to drive school buses.

The conspiracy and theft charges, and charges of making false representations for a government contract and official misconduct, have a maximum prison term of 10 years upon conviction.

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