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29 School-Bus Firm Employees in Chicago Indicted on Drug Charges

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Although none of those arrested face charges of selling drugs to children, investigators suspect some of the drivers' customers included school-bus passengers.

More indictments are expected, according to investigators.

The ongoing investigation, known as Operation skid, or School Kids in Danger, is being conducted by state police in conjunction with the Cook County State's Attorney's office, with the cooperation of several school-bus companies holding contracts with the Chicago Board of Education. All of the city's school-bus routes are served by private contractors.

Cook County State's Attorney Cecil A. Partee alleged that a "shocking" amount of narcotics was being sold by school-bus drivers, mechanics, and other employees.

He also charged that, despite state laws prohibiting schools from hiring personnel with criminal records, many of the drivers had previous convictions ranging from drug offenses to aggravated battery.8Many also did not hold a valid drivers' license, he said.

In a statement released last week, Mr. Partee pledged that his office would prosecute the cases "fiercely."

The investigation began in August 1988, according to Dan F. McCullough, spokesman for the state's attorney's office.

Undercover police officers, posing as part-time school-bus company employees, made 55 drug "buys" of heroin, cocaine, and pcp from drivers and other employees, mostly while they were on duty.

Of those arrested, 16 were employed as drivers at the time of the "buys." Sixteen were allegedlyel10lmembers of street gangs as well.

The indictments are expected to spark a renewed battle in the state legislature for stricter laws on the hiring of school-district contractors.

A new law that goes into effect Jan. 1 requires statewide criminal checks on an applicant's name. But convicted felons might well use a false name, Mr. McCullough noted.

Mr. Partee and Illinois State Police Director Jeremy Margolis last week urged the legislature to toughen the law by mandating fingerprinting and fbi background checks, and by requiring regular drug and alcohol tests.

--lj

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