NJEDA halts $50K loan to bus company owners over alleged hiring cover-up

Daniel J. Munoz//December 8, 2021//

NJEDA halts $50K loan to bus company owners over alleged hiring cover-up

Daniel J. Munoz//December 8, 2021//

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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The New Jersey Economic Development Authority is suspending a $50,000 loan to the owners and affiliates of a company that allegedly lied to public officials to cover up its hiring of several employees as school bus drivers without the proper qualifications.

F and A Enterprise Employee Leasing Inc. and its owner, Faiza Ibrahim, submitted an application in August 2020 for the money under the state’s Micro Business Loan Program, which provides low-cost loans to small businesses, according to public documents.

Their affiliate F&A Transportation secured $3.5 million of contracts between 2015 and 2020 for school districts spanning Essex, Morris, Passaic and Union counties, according to the documents.

In February 2019, an F&A school bus driver transporting 12 special-needs children in Newark crashed the vehicle into the wall of a building, and had allegedly overdosed on heroin at the time. Police had to revive the driver using Narcan.

As part of the application process, a company needs to indicate whether they’ve been charged criminally or civilly with breaking the law, and indicated “no” on any such questions in their application to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, which oversees the loan program.

But a search by NJEDA staff found that they were indeed in legal hot water. In October 2020, Ibrahim and a related company F&A Transportation, were served a criminal complaint in regarding the case, and then indicted by a grand jury in August, along with Faiza’s husband Ahemed Mahgoub.

The two and F&A Transportation faced six charges, the state Attorney General’s office announced in August. If convicted, they could face fines up to $150,000, and prison sentences of up to 10 years, a press release notes.

“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,” reads an October 2020 statement from then-Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

Their attorney, Sebastian Bio from Bio & La Racca Law Office in Orange, could not immediately provide comment for this story.

“These defendants showed a complete disregard for the safety of school children by allegedly hiring bus drivers who were totally unsuited for the job and operating buses that were in no condition to be on the road,” reads a statement issued this August from Thomas Eicher, who heads the state’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.

According to the NJEDA and Attorney General, company officials knowingly hired employees that did not have the necessary licensure and qualifications to operate a school bus, suspended licenses, and those with criminal histories and illegal drug use – whom they did not screen for drugs.

They also falsified vehicle inspection forms indicating that their vehicles were safe to drive school children, the two state agencies said.

The grand jury indictment alone is grounds for suspending the application, but NJEDA officials noted that the application would go forward if they were cleared, but it would be ended entirely if they are convicted.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]