The owners of a company providing school bus drivers based in Essex County, New Jersey, have been indicted due to allegations of providing falsified information to cover up a lack of pre-employment screening and use of unsafe vehicles. These allegations include failure to perform mandatory drug screenings, failure to perform criminal background checks, failure to ensure drivers possessed appropriate driving qualifications and operating unsafe buses.
Though charged late last year as part of an investigation performed by the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau in coordination with the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, a grand jury has only recently indicted the owners of the company. These investigations stem from a contract that the company received in 2016 to provide services to public school districts in four New Jersey counties, including Essex, Union, Morris, and Passaic counties. These contracts equated to a total value of about $3.5 million for the company.
The current allegations resulting from the investigations include that the company hired drivers before completing background checks and, in some cases, never performed them at all. This extended to drug screening as well. The company would then submit falsified paperwork as proof that it had completed the appropriate checks.
In some cases, according to the allegations, this was despite being aware that certain drivers had criminal history and prior drug abuse problems that would prevent them from legally being employed as school bus drivers. Additionally, some of these drivers were allegedly knowingly employed by the company without holding a valid commercial driver’s license or the needed endorsements to legally drive a school bus.
Lastly, the company allegedly falsified positive results for required inspections performed before and after every trip to ensure that buses are safe to drive. These forms must be filled out and maintained for potential review by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.
In 2019, one of the company’s drivers allegedly took heroin in the company’s parking lot before attempting to transport a load of special-needs students. On the way to the destination, the driver suffered an overdose and crashed into a wall. The employee required a dose of naloxone in order to regain consciousness.
New Jersey’s laws require school bus drivers to possess a valid commercial driver’s license with 2 endorsements for carrying students, a complete criminal background check with no criminal history, and a drug test as well as no history of substance abuse. When the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission audited the company’s files, it found only 9 of the company’s 51 drivers possessed completed files. If the owners are found guilty of all the offenses they have been indicted for, they may face greater than ten years in prison and nearly $200,000 in fines.