February 28, 2009 | By Andrew C. Martel Of The Morning Call
An Allentown couple who placed foreign exchange students and failed to compensate host families and schools must pay more than $178,000 in restitution and penalties and is permanently barred from working with international students.
Lehigh County Judge J. Brian Johnson ruled Tuesday to shut down United Student Exchange and fine its owners, Tim and Tina Sweet.
Johnson granted a preliminary injunction last spring, temporarily freezing the couple’s assets and closing United Student Exchange, which found schools and housing for international students, mostly from South Korea. Some were housed in bare and shoddy rooms at the Sweets’ house.
The couple was sued last spring by state Attorney General Tom Corbett’s office, which claimed the Sweets diverted more than $100,000 that was intended for school tuitions and payments to families who had taken in students.
“Visiting students and their American host families were met with empty promises and disappointment,” Corbett said. “This court order permanently bans the Sweets from operating any type of foreign exchange business.”
The couple’s attorney, Robert Rust III, said last month that the Sweets do not object to closing their business, but he said they worried the restitution amount would be higher than they thought appropriate. He did not return calls for comment Friday.
Tina Sweet said Friday that was still her position, but declined to comment further, saying “not that any of it matters now.”
Tim and Tina Sweet founded United Student Exchange in late 2006. Their Web site promised students enrollment in a private school and placement with a loving host family.
United Student Exchange also offered the students trips to visit colleges and a youth club that would meet monthly. Students’ families were charged $3,500 by the Sweets. They were also directed to make separate tuition payments for their child’s school to the Sweets. Host families were promised $2,500 to take in a student.
But the attorney general’s office later found that the Sweets deposited payments to United Student Exchange in their personal bank accounts and used the corporate account for personal spending. The investigation also found that some private schools are owed more than $112,000 in unpaid tuition.
Some students also arrived in the United States with no host family to take them. The Sweets put up some of those students at their home on Roth Avenue, where the young people slept in bedrooms or the basement.
The basement, which was shared by two students, had mattresses on the floor and no closet or dresser and no door for privacy. On weekends, the students were sometimes left unsupervised at a local mall.
Judge Johnson concluded that the Sweets broke the law by using deceptive advertising. The couple has three months to pay the restitution and fines.
2006 Aug 28: Students Land in US without Schools, Hosts
2008 Mar 13: Foreign exchange troubles come home
2008 Mar 18: Pennsylvania Sues Exchange Student Business