School-Bus Contracts Said Held by Organized Crime

By Robert Rothman — February 12, 1986 3 min read

New York City Official Declines Comment on ‘Perjurer’s’ Charge

Martin Light, who was sentenced last year to 15 years in prison for possession of heroin with intent to distribute it, told the President’s Commission on Organized Crime in Washington Jan. 29 that organized-crime figures have been buying legitimate businesses, including companies that have contracts to supply school buses to the city.

“They’ve got most of the school-bus business in New York City,” Mr. Light said.

He added that the companies were able to win contracts because they did not pay union wages.

The lawyer’s testimony came during a series of hearings being held by the commission, appointed in July 1983 by President Reagan to recommend ways to combat organized crime.

Its findings are to be reported to the President by the first of next month.

Joseph Mancini, a spokesman for the New York City Board of Education, last week discounted Mr. Light’s charges.

“We have no comment on this admitted perjurer’s testimony,” Mr. Mancini said, noting that Mr. Light told the commission he had perjured himself during his heroin-possession trial.

Further, Mr. Mancini said, most of the city’s $145 million in contracts for school buses are with companies that employ union labor.

He added that the contracts are awarded competitively and must pass a review by the city Department of Investigation.

Arthur Brill, a spokesman for the President’s commission, said the commission’s investigators were not surprised by Mr. Light’s testimony. “Federal authorities have known about this for some time,” he said. “It is a significant problem.”

The commission will pass along information it receives to federal and local law-enforcement agencies, Mr. Brill added. But a spokesman for the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York said she was unaware of any investigation into the allegation.

Mr. Brill added that the commission has not studied whether companies with school-bus contracts in cities other than New York have links to organized crime. But such links are “not beyond the realm of possibility,” he said.

School boards in several large cities, including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Chicago, contract out their school-bus service to private firms.

Officials in those cities, however, said they have heard no allegations of any links between the companies that supply the buses and organized crime.

Contractors in New York

The New York City school system, the nation’s largest, contracts out all its school-bus service to private companies.

Almost 120 companies provide the city’s 2,800 buses, along with maintenance and drivers.

According to Mr. Mancini, Mr. Light named only one contracting firm in his testimony, saying that the owner’s father had been linked to organized crime.

In an interview, the owner of that company, which supplies fewer than 20 buses to the city, denied the allegation. He said he had never heard of Mr. Light and added, “I’m not involved in organized crime, and I never was. I won the bid in 1979, It was an open bid.”

Contractual Services Common

In cities where private companies provide school-bus service to school boards, officials say the companies can provide the most cost-efficient services; in many cases, this is because the companies employ nonunion drivers, while public employees are generally unionized.

In Chicago, for example, all 2,200 buses are provided by 25 private companies.

Two of those companies, which provide about 900 buses, have agreements with the Teamsters Union, according to a school-board transportation official.

In Philadelphia, private firms provide 628 of the school system’s 944 buses.

William Jones, a spokesman for the board, said the privately run buses have been plagued by poor I performance in the past, but the board has since included performance clauses in the contracts.

The result, he added, has been improved operations. During a recent snowfall, Mr. Jones said, almost 99 percent of the buses ran.

Similarly, the Boston school system last year terminated a contract with ARA Services, which provided drivers and maintenance for city-owned school buses, in part because of performance problems.

After adjusting the contract to make it more attractive to private bidders, the school board entered into a contract with two companies, which employ unionized drivers.

A version of this article appeared in the February 12, 1986 edition of Education Week

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