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WWL-TV's 'Taken for a Ride' investigation leads to criminal charges for school bus owners

WWL-TV’s “Taken for a Ride” investigation in 2019 uncovered falsified insurance documents from school bus provider Scholars First.

NEW ORLEANS — The former owners of a charter school bus company and their insurance agent have been charged with insurance fraud as the result of an exclusive WWL-TV investigation two years ago.

The station’s “Taken for a Ride” investigation in 2019 uncovered insurance documents from school bus provider Scholars First that the state insurance commissioner confirmed had been falsified. The Louisiana State Police picked up the investigation and announced Monday that warrants had been issued for the arrest of Scholars First’s two owners, Melvin Williams, 42, of Gonzales, and Jeramy Jackson, 40, of New Orleans.

They are wanted on 23 counts each of computer fraud, LSP said.

Reached by phone Monday evening, Jackson declined to comment. Williams could not be reached.

Michael Simon, the insurance agent for Scholars First who also owned a school bus company called Ethan Michael Simon that had contracts with area charter schools, was arrested Sunday in Jefferson Parish and booked on nine counts of computer fraud.

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WWL-TV discovered the false insurance records when a Scholars First bus got into a fender bender with a car on Orleans Avenue. The driver of the car, Elias Newman, called the bus company’s listed insurance carrier and discovered the policy was not current.

WWL-TV then interviewed the insurance carrier and listed agency and confirmed many of Scholars First insurance documents filed with area charter schools were falsified. Now that the owners are facing arrest, Newman wants to make sure the focus remains on the lack of control from New Orleans’ decentralized, privately run charter-based school system.

“Scholars First was able to run a bus company without insurance because school leaders and politicians looked the other way while profiting from cheap, suspicious contracts,” Newman said.

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon initially investigated Scholars First based on the WWL-TV reports and issued cease and desist letters to the company.

Two years later, he praised the TV station’s investigation and the work of the Louisiana State Police’s Insurance Fraud Division.

“Very, very good investigative work. I appreciate it very much,” Donelon said.

“And we will be there to back up the enforcement aspect that you and Louisiana State Police have initiated.”

He said the three could face significant prison time if convicted.

“Not only is it jail time that they're looking at and probably facing, they're also putting children at risk. I mean, it's just unbelievable that they would result to such actions.”

After the initial investigation in 2019, all nine New Orleans-area charter schools that had hired Scholars First to transport students terminated their contracts.
But in 2020, Simon re-emerged as the owner of another school bus provider, EMS Transportation, which took over Scholars First routes at Coghill Elementary School.

Two EMS drivers told WWL-TV that Jackson actually ran EMS and emails and other documents showed Simon turned to former Scholars First officials to run the daily bus operations.

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