Category Archives: Timothy H. Sweet and Tina Sweet

2009 Feb 28: Couple who placed exchange students must pay $178,000

Restitution ordered: Allentown pair had failed to compensate host families, schools.

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.

andrew.martel@mcall.com

610-820-6527

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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

2008 Mar 18: Pennsylvania Sues Exchange Student Business

Operators accused of diverting funds, misleading parents and misrepresenting program

03/18/2008 | ConsumerAffairs

Pennsylvania’s attorney general has filed a civil lawsuit against an Allentown, Pa., couple accused of diverting in excess of $100,000 from the international “foreign exchange student” business they operated.

Attorney General Tom Corbett said the lawsuit was filed against Timothy H. Sweet and Tina Sweet, doing business as United Student Exchange and United International Studies.

According to the lawsuit, the Sweets brought more than 50 foreign students to Pennsylvania with promises of carefully selected host families and placement at private schools. They are accused of diverting more than $100,000 which was intended to pay for school tuitions and to support the students while they were in the United States.

“The Sweets and their business – United Student Exchange – took advantage of families hoping to send their children to America to enjoy once-in-a-lifetime educational experiences,” Corbett said. “Instead, visiting students and their U.S. host families were met with empty promises and disappointment – left to fend for themselves by a business that claimed to be ‘uniting the world with Christ, one student at a time’.”

Corbett said his office has also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Sweets from bringing additional foreign students into the United States, along with a request that the court order an immediate freeze of any bank accounts and other assets controlled by the Sweets, believed to contain money that has been paid for program fees, tuition and host family payments.

‘Christian’ communities

According to the lawsuit, the Sweets, operating as United Student Exchange, advertised the placement of exchange students in Christian communities. Exchange students were primarily recruited in Korea.

Currently, the program is believed to have 56 students, from 8th through 12th grade, in the U.S., with the majority of the students located in Lehigh, Berks and Lancaster counties.

Corbett said that exchange students and their families were promised a “dedicated” and “full service” program to support the students during their visit, using carefully screened host families that were pre-selected for the students.

According to the lawsuit, arriving students often learned that their host families had not yet been recruited. Foreign students without a host family were placed in “temporary” homes or housed in the Sweets home, as many as eight students at a time.

Corbett said that the Sweets and United Student Exchange are also accused of recruiting host families under false pretenses — claiming that pre-arranged host families had suffered an illness or had a previously scheduled activity, such as a vacation, which required the temporary relocation of a visiting student.

Host families recruited after the arrival of students did not complete a “host family application form,” and were not required to supply references or undergo a background check, or only received a cursory review, contrary to advertised claims by the Sweets about their family screening and selection process.

According to the United Student Exchange website, maintained by the Sweets, visiting students would be offered free trips throughout the year, so that they could see other parts of America, along with other services which were not provided.

No support

In addition, host families were also told that United Student Exchange was dedicated to providing assistance to the visiting students during their stay, though families were allegedly left without support — with the Sweets failing to reply to email messages or respond to telephone calls.

Corbett said the families of visiting students paid a “service fee” of $3,500 to the Sweets and United Student Exchange in order to locate a school and host family. The Sweets also received an additional $2,500 fee, intended to pay the host family for their expenses, along with added costs for school tuition. Full payment of all fees was required prior to the students’ arrival in the United States.

According to the lawsuit, the majority of payments were made directly to the Sweets and United Student Exchange, who maintained control over the balance of the funds. Despite pre-payment of all school tuition and host family fees, a number of schools and host families report receiving only minimal payments from the Sweets, or no payment at all.

Additionally, the lawsuit states that complaints from students, host families and schools about unpaid expenses or missing funds were occasionally met by threats from the Sweets to send visiting students home prior to the end of their 10-month stay — resulting in the forfeiture of all payments and also sign of dishonor for families whose children had not completed the school year.

Corbett noted that United Student Exchange and other related businesses names used by the Sweets have not been registered with the Pennsylvnia Department of State, as required for any fictitious business name.

The Sweets and their businesses are also not recognized sponsors under the federal J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa program, which is closely supervised by the U.S. State Department and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Corbett said that the violations of the Consumer Protection Law listed in the civil lawsuit filed against the Sweets include:
• Failure to pay host families, as promised.
• Failure to pay school tuition, as promised.
• Misrepresentation of support to students and host families.
• Contract terms in violation of Consumer Protection Law.
• Failure to register fictitious business names. Corbett said the civil lawsuit filed against the Sweets and their businesses seeks the following:
• Permanently prohibit the Sweets and their companies from placing additional foreign students in the U.S.
• Permanently prohibit the Sweets from housing foreign students at their residence.
• Prevent the forced return of any student prior to the end of their contracted visit to the United States.
• Declare that illegal sections of exchange student contracts are null and void.
• Provide all host families and schools with all payments collected by the Sweets and their companies which were intended for tuition and host expenses.
• Civil penalties of $1,000 for each violation of the Consumer Protection Law, increasing to $3,000 for each violation involving a victim over 60 years old.
• Prohibit the Sweets and their businesses from operating in Pennsylvania until all restitution, costs and civil penalties have been paid.

Corbett said that a court order, obtained on March 6, 2008, prevents the Sweets from engaging in any further student exchange activities, prohibits them from housing students in their home and prevents them from involuntarily returning students to their home countries.

Corbett said the court order also requires the Sweets to preserve all business and financial records and open all records and accounts to investigators from the Attorney General’s Office. Additionally, the Sweets are subject to court-ordered restrictions on the withdrawal of funds from various bank accounts.

Corbett encouraged any student, host family or school experiencing difficulty with the Sweets, United Student Exchange or United International Studies to contact the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection at 1-800-441-2555 (inside Pennsylvania) or the Allentown Regional Office of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at 610-821-6690.

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2006 Aug 28: Students Land in US without Schools, Hosts

2008 Mar 13: Foreign exchange troubles come home