Tag Archives: #PennsylvaniaUSA

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

By Sonia Moghe | Posted: Monday, August 28, 2006 12:00 am | My Plainview

MANSFIELD, Texas — South Korean student Jun Young Kim simply wanted to go to a public high school in America and practice English with friends.

But when he got to America, after his family paid nearly $13,000 to get him into a cultural exchange program, the 16-year-old found that he could not attend a local public school as promised. Then he learned he had to pay even more money to attend a private school.

“I don’t know why they need money like that much,” said Kim, whose stay with a Pennsylvania family ended in May. “I thought this money is for a host family, but they don’t get any money. And what is that money for? School is free, and room is free. That’s ridiculous.”

Kim’s case, involving a Texas exchange program, is one of several examples of programs failing to make the most basic arrangements for students. While most of the 111 U.S. exchange programs report no such problems, the Department of State has ordered a halt to a handful of programs that have left students stuck in hotels or otherwise in limbo.

“When these exchange programs operate under sloppiness and greed, that’s when these accidents can happen and that’s why they do,” said Danielle Grijalva, who once placed exchange students in homes for a Texas-based exchange program but is now director of a watchdog group that looks out for the safety of the students.

Some cases of foreign exchange student abuse with other programs have surfaced in recent years, including one involving Paul Stone of Berea, Ky., who pleaded guilty in April to sodomizing a 15-year-old Taiwanese girl his family hosted.

“Students arriving without homes, forced to live in basements, placed in homes of convicted felons and registered sex offenders is not cultural exchange,” Grijalva said.

In Kim’s case, Mansfield-based United Students Association Inc., a Christian cultural exchange program, had not officially secured a public school for Kim in Allentown, Pa.

The program is one of five U.S. high school programs that have been told by the State Department to withdraw their exchange visitor program designations in recent years.

Moacir Rodrigues, executive director of USA Inc., said the few instances where students were left without homes or schools were due to extreme circumstances and rarely happen.

“Families change their minds – it happens all the time,” he said. “This is a minority of cases.”

Rodrigues also said the group has little control over the final fee charged to students in the program. He said USA Inc. only charged between $3,500 and $3,850 in the past two years for the program, but representatives in 29 countries can charge whatever commission they please.

“I don’t see and I don’t know how much people charge,” he said. “They don’t spend it with me.”

Until earlier this year, Rodrigues brought in thousands of students using J-1 visas, which are issued as part of the Department of State’s exchange visitor program. Organizations that bring students to the U.S. through this program are monitored by the State Department.

In April, the State Department revoked USA Inc.’s designation that allowed it to bring in foreign students with J-1 visas because the program did not meet required standards. Stanley Colvin, who directs the exchange coordination and designation program for the State Department, said the program left several students living in hotels without host families or schools for weeks.

By the end of August, USA Inc. planned to bring in about 80 students by using F-1 visas, which are issued by the Department of Homeland Security and do not require students to have housing or schools set up prior to arriving in the U.S.

Colvin said USA Inc. also failed to have adequately trained staff.

Rodrigues would not go into specifics about how he trains his staff, who help him place students with host families, but said that he trusts them.

“They’re all Christians,” he said. “They’re all fine.”

Barbara Phillips, Kim’s host mother in Pennsylvania, said USA Inc. staff called her using her church’s member directory and asked if they could be a host family just days before he arrived in the U.S. Phillips said she was given 24 hours to make a decision.

“Right from the start I was skeptical about how legitimate they were,” she said. “It almost looks like they’re going from church to church recruiting families that way.”

Tina Sweet, a program development director in the Allentown area who called Phillips, said she only uses church directories with permission from the churches.

2008 Mar 13: Foreign exchange troubles come home

Couple accused of scamming students say they did their best, are victims themselves.

March 13, 2008|By Brian Callaway Of The Morning Call

The Allentown couple accused by the state of scamming foreign exchange students and area Christian schools out of more than $130,000 say the trouble stems from bad business moves, not illegal behavior.

“Finances are just not our cup of tea,” Tina Sweet said earlier this week.

She also denied allegations made by the state attorney general’s office in a lawsuit that she and her husband, Timothy, had subjected students to “substandard” conditions, including threats and forcing them to find their own way home from local malls.

Tina Sweet said she’s “tough” with children, but would never harm them.

Her husband said they wanted to do right by the students.

“We have the thing to help people,” he said. “That’s just our nature.”

The attorney general’s office filed its lawsuit against the Sweets last Thursday, the same day Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin confirmed his office is investigating the couple.

A man who didn’t identify himself answered the Sweets’ phone after the suit was filed said the Sweets weren’t there, and referred calls to their attorney. The attorney, Robert Rust, later agreed to set up an interview with his clients at their west Allentown home.

Tina Sweet said she decided to help find host families and schools for exchange students after hosting a Hungarian girl about 10 years ago.

She said she worked for various exchange agencies over the years, including a stint placing students in this region for a Texas-based nonprofit group called United Students Association.

While the Sweets were working for United Students Association, the group lost its certification to place students in public schools from the U.S. State Department.

The group can still place students in private schools through a separate visa program, which is subject to less government oversight.

Darlene Kirk, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said the group lost its certification because of complaints that students were brought to this country without arrangements for schooling or host families.

Tina Sweet and Moacir Rodrigues, United Students Association’s executive director, blame each other for those problems.

“They did not complete the job,” Rodrigues said. “The job was to place students in Christian homes … and to take care of them.

“I lost my designation because of what they did.”

Sweet said Rodrigues sent students here before she’d had time to find homes for them. She said she continued working with him out of “loyalty.”

Tina Sweet said she wasn’t always able to make sure host families were compatible with students.

“At that point, we were just trying to make matches,” she said.

Exchange students, sometimes as many as eight at a time, have stayed at the Sweets’ home over the years. The Sweets also have several children of their own and foster children.

Some of the students stayed in basement bedrooms. The Sweets declined to allow a Morning Call photographer to take pictures of the rooms, saying they’ve been changed into offices since then. They did allow a reporter and photographer to see the rooms, though, to verify they were finished and heated.

Sweet acknowledged that many of the allegations made in the state’s lawsuit are at least partially true, but said they lack the “context” to show students weren’t mistreated.

She said she did periodically threaten to send students back to their home country, for instance, but typically only did so to get students to behave.

She also said foreign students in her care went places unsupervised, but denied there’s anything wrong with that.

“Their parents sent them halfway around the world unsupervised,” she said. “Why can’t they go to the mall unsupervised?”

The Sweets set up their own company, which has been called both United Student Exchange and United International Studies, a little more than a year ago.

It has not been certified to place students in public schools; instead, it places students in schools such as Bethlehem Catholic High School, Lehigh Valley Christian High School and Faith Christian Academy in Sellersville, Bucks County.

According to court papers, the Sweets charged foreign students $3,500 to be placed in a school, another $2,500 to be paid to the host family, and additional money for tuition.

In its lawsuit, the attorney general’s office accused the Sweets of not passing along tuition and host family fees paid to them for dozens of students. The suit seeks to recoup those funds. The students were recruited by the Human Centre, a company with offices in South Korea and Australia.

Court papers say the Human Centre turned over records showing it referred 24 students and transferred nearly $134,000 by wire and check to the Sweets.

Tina Sweet said the records are faulty or faked.

“Anybody can create a spreadsheet,” she said.

She said it’s really the Human Centre that owes her and her husband money, claiming it never paid for many of the students.

She said she spent months forgiving bills left unpaid by Centre Chief Executive Officer Edwin Hong, thinking he’d eventually pay up; she also said she took $20,000 she’d gotten from other exchange students and used it to help cover various expenses.

“I don’t think what I did was wrong,” she said. “I think it was a bad business choice.”

Hong, in a phone interview from his office in Australia, said the records he gave the attorney general’s office are accurate.

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“I would be very stupid turning over something fabricated,” he said.

As the Sweets’ troubles developed, exchange students, area families who’ve hosted students and school officials have complained about their operation.

As part of the state’s legal filing, a judge issued an injunction barring the Sweets from bringing in any new students and largely freezing their bank accounts. There are no foreign students living with them now.

brian.callaway@mcall.com

610-820-6168

LAWSUIT ACCUSATIONS

In a lawsuit, the state attorney

general’s office said Timothy and Tina Sweet, an Allentown couple who ran a business called United Student Exchange, did the following:

Improperly handled $130,000 meant to cover Christian school tuition and other expenses of foreign exchange students.

Subjected some students to

“substandard’ care.

Left students unsupervised at malls on weekends.

Threatened to send students back home and to keep their money.

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2008: Pennsylvania Sues Exchange Student Business

2009 Oct 23: Aspect asked to change routines after Scranton scandal

The Times Tribune | BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL (STAFF WRITER) | Published: October 23, 2009
Edna Burgette 1Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2009:07:22 16:15:52
Edna Burgette

Click here to read the report (pdf)

Insufficient oversight and resources plague the department responsible for overseeing foreign-exchange student programs nationwide, a report released Thursday found.

The probe by the U.S. Office of Inspector General was initiated after up to 12 students alleged they were neglected after being placed in Scranton-area homes during the 2008-09 school year. The case exposed the national lack of oversight and significant lapses in background checks for hosts of the 30,000 international students who come to the U.S. each year.

In the Scranton case, local coordinator Edna Burgette allegedly placed students in homes without completing background checks and shuffled some students from home to home.

The students told investigators they lived in filthy homes, some of which were later condemned. Several said they were living with an ex-convict, and at least one student required medical attention for lack of adequate nutrition. All said Ms. Burgette, now the former area coordinator for San Francisco-based Aspect Foundation, ignored their complaints, even though she was paid by Aspect to place the students and check up on them.

Last summer, Ms. Burgette was charged with five counts of endangering the welfare of children. She was fired when Aspect learned of the allegations.

The Department of State has penalized Aspect. The department is limiting the number of student visas Aspect can receive in 2009-10 by 15 percent, leading to a potential $540,000 loss of revenue.

The inspector’s report, while it did not mention the Scranton case, made several recommendations that could have made a difference in Northeast Pennsylvania.

According to the report, individuals within the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, responsible for overseeing exchanges, have not been directly monitoring students and instead were relying on the private educational associations, such as Aspect, to oversee students.

“There is an inherent danger in ascribing major responsibilities without clear guidance and support,” the report stated.

Aspect relied on Ms. Burgette to report problems and to make sure students were safe, and she did neither, Aspect officials have previously stated.

The report recommends the department be given adequate resources to conduct periodic unannounced site visits, and to establish a database to record student complaints and incidents so it is easier track problems.

The report also calls for national criminal history background checks to be given to potential host families.

Background checks vary significantly across the country, from not being done at all or relying on references from family and neighbors, to comprehensive checks, said Danielle Grijalva, director of the California-based Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students.

“You’ve got to do it right the first time,” she said.

While Ms. Grijalva had some reservations about the report, she said if taken seriously it could make a difference in the overall quality and safety of foreign-exchange programs.

“The problems will only repeat themselves if we do not get serious and make changes,” she said.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who has called for an overhaul in exchange program oversight, said incidents in Scranton “were allowed to happen, in part, because of a lack of clear regulations that allowed sponsor organizations to interpret the rules in a manner that ultimately endangered these students.”

The “real measure of progress will be what specific steps are taken to prevent this problem from happening again.”

Contact the writer: shofius@timesshamrock.com

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Related stories

State Department statement

Tim and Tina Sweet sentenced for fraud

Lehigh County Judge J. Brian Johnson ruled against Timothy H. Sweet and Tina Sweet in the lawsuit brought against them in 2008 by Attorney General Tom Corbett.

The couple is permanently barred from working with international students and must pay more than $178,000 in restitution to various victims, including numerous host families and schools throughout the Lehigh Valley and Central Pennsylvania and civil penalties. To make sure funds might be available at such time as judgement was made, Judge Johnson froze USE’s funds after the lawsuit was brought against the Sweet’s.

Tim and Tina Sweet, of 1746 Roth Avenue, South Whitehall Township in Pennsylvania, ran the foreign student exchange organization United Student Exchange. They were sued for illegally diverting funds intended to pay for school tuitions and support for the students. Indeed, Attorney General Corbett claimed that

“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’.”

South-Korea

Most of the exchange students the Sweet’s scammed were from South-Korea. Upon arrival none of the Christian families promised were available and the exchange students were crammed together in so-called temporary homes. Background checks were not performed nor did host-families recruited after the students arrived complete application forms. In fact, the Sweet’s deceived new host-families into taking in exchange students.

If complaints were made about housing conditions, the host-families or lack of supervision, USE threatened to return the exchange students to their home countries.

United Student Exchange was not registered with either the Pennsylvania Department of State nor the federal J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa program, supervised by the U.S. State Department and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Judge Johnson concluded that the Sweets broke the law by using deceptive advertising. The couple has three months to pay the restitution and fines.

Attorney General Corbett said that violations 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.

2010 May 12: Office of Investigations: Scranton, Pennsylvania

OIG conducted an investigation of a subcontractor to a Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs grantee that received $835,670 to conduct a project entitled “Youth Exchange and Study Program” (YES) for the 2008-2009 academic school year. An employee of the subcontractor was assigned to serve as the local coordinator for the students enrolled in the program and was responsible for finding host homes for the students in Scranton, PA. The employee accepted money from the grant and failed to provide the students with basic provisions as outlined in the grant. On February 12, 2010, the subcontractor employee pleaded guilty to one felony count of Mail Fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 12, 2010. Possible civil action against the subcontract company for knowing violating the terms of the grant is currently pending. (09-107)

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OIG conducted an investigation of a subcontractor to a Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs grantee that received $835,670 to conduct a project entitled “Youth Exchange and Study Program” for the 2008-2009 academic school year. An employee of the subcontractor was assigned to serve as the local coordinator for the students enrolled in the program and was responsible for finding host homes for the students in Scranton, PA. The employee accepted money from the grant and failed to provide the students with basic provisions as outlined in the grant. On February 12, 2010, the subcontractor employee pleaded guilty to one felony count of Mail Fraud and on May 27, 2010, she was sentenced in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania, to 3 years supervised probation and 100 hours of community service, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,900. (See OIG Semiannual Report to the Congress, October 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010, pp 68) (09-107)

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House Report 111-187 – STATE, FOREIGN OPERATIONS, AND RELATED PROGRAMS APPROPRIATIONS BILL, 2010

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Warrant of arrest of Edna Mary Burgette

2009 Jul 21: Warrant of Arrest for Edna Mary Burgette

Edna Mary Burgette was convicted in this matter and had to serve time. She had been responsible for placing exchange students for Aspect Foundation at least 10 years before the authorities got involved. During this time Aspect Foundation had received complaints regarding Ms. Burgette’s placements and her behavior toward the exchange students but to no avail. How many students were affected by Ms. Burgette’s criminal behavior during her time as an International Exchange Coordinator is difficult to know. The only ones with an answer are Ms. Burgette, Aspect Foundation and the students themselves.


2013 Oct 17: USA: Allentown Diocese priest didn’t report sex abuse disclosed during confession, lawsuit alleges

By Tom Shortell | The Express-Times
on October 17, 2013 at 6:28 PM

A South Korean student who was sexually abused at a Pen Argyl academy is suing Pius X High School and the Diocese of Allentown.
In a lawsuit filed today in Northampton County, the student said she alerted a priest at Pius X of the sexual abuse four times during confession. The priest never alerted authorities, according to the lawsuit.

Matt Kerr, a spokesman for the diocese, declined comment. The diocese does not publicly comment on ongoing litigation, he said.
The student was one of dozens who lived at Ace Academy USA in order to attend class at Pius X. Getting into a South Korean college or university is extremely competitive, so the students attended American schools to better their chances of getting into an American college, ACE Academy Director Richard Kim said in 2007.
Three years later, Kim began sexually assaulting the 14-year-old girl left in his care, according to police. The abuse lasted from November 2010 to February 2011 before police were notified, the lawsuit stated.

Kim was sentenced to five to 10 years in state prison. His parents, Min and Yong Kim, who were heavily involved in running ACE Academy, pleaded guilty this year to failing to report suspected child abuse. Min and Yong Kim were sentenced to one year of probation.
The academy is also named in the suit. There is no public phone listing for the Kims and they couldn’t be reached for comment.
In the lawsuit, the student’s attorneys say the diocese and high school officials either knew or should have known that Richard Kim posed a risk to the students at the school. ACE and the Kim family also failed to protect the students entrusted to their care.
“We feel they had a major responsibility to these kids. They traveled thousands of miles to attend that school. You can’t just disclaim any responsibility,” said Howard Myerowitz, an attorney representing the victim.

Myerowitz said the abuse came to light only when the victim told a friend also attending ACE Academy. The friend alerted her mother back in South Korea, who alerted the victim’s mother, who contacted authorities, he said.

That differs somewhat from information offered by Assistant District Attorney Patricia Broscius, who prosecuted Richard Kim. During the sentencing, she also credited a Pius X priest with stepping forward and alerting authorities, she said. She confirmed tonight that the priest was willing to testify about the victim’s confession at trial if needed.
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2011 Jul 07: Ace Academy director accused of sexually assaulting student at the Pen Argyl foreign school

2012 May 04: Former director at Ace Academy pleads guilty to sexual assaults on student

2012 May 04: Former director at Ace Academy pleads guilty to sexual assaults on student

By Tom Shortell | The Express-Times

on May 04, 2012 at 12:17 PM, updated May 04, 2012 at 5:23 PM

Express-Times File PhotoRichard Kim, left, walks into district court in Wind Gap with his attorney, Charles W. Gordon.

A director of a foreign exchange academy associated with Pius X High School pleaded guilty today to sexually molesting one of the teenage students under his supervision.

Richard Kim, 34, spoke only in whispers as he entered a guilty plea to Northampton County Judge Leonard Zito to corruption of minors and 17 counts of indecent assault. In return for his plea, the Northampton County District Attorney’s Office agreed to drop 59 other related charges.

Authorities say Kim repeatedly molested a then 13-year-old Korean girl who was attending Pius X High School through Ace Academy USA, the foreign exchange program run by his father, Min Kim. Assistant District Attorney Patricia Broscius said the victim was one of several Korean students living at the Pen Argyl academy. Students kept to a strict regiment of chores, were told not to speak Korean at school and were not allowed to participate in most after-school activities offered at the high school.

Broscius said the victim was struggling to adapt to her surroundings in America, and was scolded by Min Kim, who was called “Daddy Director” by the students, for not smiling enough. The one person she felt close to was Richard Kim, who showed her compassion and made her feel good about herself, Broscius said.

“He was her friend at the school. He was her only friend there,”Broscius said.

Their bond led to one-on-one counseling sessions, Broscius said, but about one month after her arrival in the country, Kim leaned in and kissed her, authorities say. Kim promised not to do it again after the victim pulled away in shock, but the sexual contact gradually escalated to groping and forcing her to perform sexual acts on him, Broscius said.

The contact continued for three months before the victim, who is not Catholic, eventually told a priest during confession at the high school, Broscius said. The priest told her she needed to step forward about the abuse, and the victim alerted her mother back in South Korea what was happening, according to authorities. The mother came to the United State to remove her daughter from the school and informed authorities, Broscius said.

The plea was a stark turnaround for Kim, who vehemently denied the assaults took place when he was first charged. His attorney, Charles Gordon, declined to comment on why his client accepted the plea deal a week before he was scheduled for trial.

The criminal investigation into Richard Kim was hampered by Min Kim, Broscius said. He is under investigation for allegedly telling the other students at Ace to support Richard Kim over the victim, but Broscius would not provide further details. Most of the students at the academy have since left, she said.

A call to Min Kim seeking comment was not immediately returned. Gordon said he is in talks with the elder Kim but does not represent him. He is still listed as a staff member on Pius X High School’s website.

Broscius requested Richard Kim, who was out on bail, be held in Northampton County Prison. She feared that if Kim were allowed to remain out on bail, the remaining students at Ace Academy would be subjected to discipline for their willingness to testify against him. Broscius also said Kim was a flight risk.

“I am certain he has ties to Korea, and I am certain he has the ability and wherewithal to flee the country,” she said.

Gordon dismissed Broscius’ claims, saying Richard Kim has not had any contact with the school since he was charged and has been living in Philadelphia. Richard Kim was born in the United States, attended Penn State University and would be willing to surrender his passport as a show of good faith, he said. Gordon also said Richard Kim had no involvement in any pressure his father may have placed on the other students.

“We agreed the defendant should not be punished for the acts of the father,” Gordon said.

Zito reset Kim’s bail, raising it to 10 percent of $500,000, and ordered Kim to surrender his passport. Court records show Kim made bail, and he is due in court Aug. 3 for sentencing.

Ace Academy has a contract to send its students to Pius X High School through the 2017-18 school year, but Diocese of Allentown spokesman Matt Kerr said the school is reviewing whether to continue its relationship with Ace Academy. At the time the contract was signed, school officials saw the Korean academy as a way to keep the high school afloat as they struggled to keep enrollment up. In 2007, the Korean students made up seven percent of the 212-member student body. This year, enrollment has boomed up to 295, Kerr said.

“School enrollment has grown tremendously in recent years – not just with the Korean community, but overall. I’m sure the school is in a strong position,” he said.

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2011 Jul 07: Ace Academy director accused of sexually assaulting student at the Pen Argyl foreign school

2011 Jul 07: Ace Academy director accused of sexually assaulting student at the Pen Argyl foreign school

By Michael Buck | The Express-Times

on July 07, 2011 at 11:55 AM, updated July 07, 2011 at 9:53 PM

Express-Times Photo | MATT SMITHAce Academy is at 21 N. Lobb Ave. in Pen Argyl.

The director of a Slate Belt foreign study program has been accused of using his position to sexually assault a teenage student, court records say.

Richard Kim, 33, of Pen Argyl, was arraigned this morning before District Judge Adrianne Masut and is charged with six counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, three counts of sexual assault, 17 counts of corruption of minors and 51 counts of indecent assault. He is free after posting $5,000 bail.

Kim’s attorney, Charles Gordon, refuted the allegations leveled at Kim, who is the director of the Ace Academy in Pen Argyl. The facility, which is also known as ACE Education USA, sends South Korean students to Pius X High School in Bangor.

“We vigorously deny this ever occurred,” Gordon said. “Our position is that it never occurred.”

Richard Kim

Kim is alleged to have had 17 encounters with the girl from Nov. 14, 2010, until Feb. 20, court records say. Kim allegedly molested and had oral sex with the girl while the two were alone in the dormitory at 21 N. Lobb Ave., records say.

The case was referred to Pen Argyl police after the Northampton County Division of Children, Youth and Families received a complaint.

Gordon said Kim, who was born and raised in the United States, has been separated from the Ace Academy and will no longer have any contact with the students.

“There has never been a complaint or a hint of a complaint,”Gordon said of Kim.

Gordon requested Masut set an unsecured bail, saying Kim has strong ties to the area and turned himself in this morning. Masut said she could not do that given the nature of the charges. She set bail at 10 percent of $50,000, which was met.

Ace has sent students to Pius X since 2005 and has an agreement to send students there through the 2017-18 school year.