Stikkordarkiv: #EdnaBurgette

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.


2009 Jun 03: Casey Presses State Department on Mistreatment of Foreign Exchange Students

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC- Following his meeting with Miller Crouch, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs on the situation with mistreated foreign exchange students in Pennsylvania, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today released the following statement:

“As new details emerge on the intolerable living conditions foreign exchange students were forced to endure in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, I have concluded that our system failed these young people.  In my meeting yesterday with the leading State Department official responsible for the oversight of educational exchange programs, he acknowledged a ‘systemic failure’ on the part of the Aspect Foundation and the need for the Department to establish more safeguards in the process to monitor personnel responsible for the safety and welfare of students.

When a family sends their son or daughter to the United States to experience a glimpse of American culture and values, they should not have to worry that their child will go without food or live in dangerous conditions without any supervision.  I look forward to working with the State Department to immediately correct the flaws in the existing process and ensure that future exchange students visiting the United States will only be placed with responsible families that have been fully vetted.”

Last week, Senator Casey sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to investigate the Department of State’s oversight of U.S. youth exchange programs following reports of abuse and mistreatment of the foreign exchange students in Pennsylvania.

Nine foreign exchange students between the ages of 15 and 18 have been placed in the care of Lackawanna County’s Department of Human Services.  According to officials, some children were in need of medical attention due to malnutrition and dehydration while others were living in unsanitary conditions and in homes that were recently condemned.  Only after their teachers voiced concerns did their neglect come to light.  Currently, foreign exchange students are eligible to attend approximately 430 high schools, colleges and universities throughout Pennsylvania.

###

Press Contact

Larry Smar: (202) 228-6367

(Uthevelser red.anm.)


2009 Jul 16: State Department punishes exchange student company as criminal probe widens

The Times Tribune | BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL (STAFF WRITER) | Published: July 16, 2009

The organization at the center of neglect allegations concerning foreign exchange students in Scranton is poorly run and violated at least a dozen regulations, the U.S. Department of State has concluded.

In light of the alleged neglect of up to a dozen students placed in the region, the Department of State is penalizing the California-based Aspect Foundation. The department will limit the amount of student visas Aspect can receive in 2009-10 by 15 percent, leading to a potential $540,000 loss of revenue.

The penalties and additional changes in State Department policies will have national implications across the foreign exchange student industry, as more checks are created to ensure student safety.

Meanwhile, a Lackawanna County grand jury is continuing to consider whether criminal charges are warranted, and its investigation has expanded beyond just the actions of Edna Burgette, the local coordinator who placed students in Scranton homes.

Aspect Foundation is also a focus of the grand jury, which started hearing the case in May. The district attorney’s office has been obtaining documents and other records that may lead to charges against the organization, District Attorney Andy Jarbola said.

«That’s the time-consuming process,» Mr. Jarbola said.

Twelve area foreign exchange students, who paid Aspect to place them with area families, have reported arriving in Scranton and not having a host family secured, then living in filthy homes, some of which were later condemned. Students say they were shuffled from home to home, including living in one with a man who had been convicted of drug-related offenses. At least one required medical attention for lack of adequate food and drink.

One student had been so deprived of food he cried when offered pizza by county detectives, Mr. Jarbola said Wednesday.

Regulations violated

Along with the criminal probe by the county district attorney’s office, the U.S. Office of Inspector General has launched an investigation.

Depending on the outcome of the case, penalties imposed by the Department of State may become more severe, including Aspect being forbidden from bringing foreign students to the U.S.

Aspect «is a financially troubled corporation operating with a largely untrained and unsupervised field staff,» according to the Department of State. «Underlying this weak organizational structure appears to be a corporate culture that does not grasp the complexity of the current international high school exchange environment.»

In a letter sent to Aspect, the department outlined 12 regulations violated by Aspect, including «failing to ensure that a number of host families were ‘capable of providing a comfortable and nurturing home environment’ » and failing to check references or perform background checks. Aspect also was cited for bringing notoriety and disrepute to the department, as outlined by quotes from The Times-Tribune stories that were included in the letter.

In addition to the 15 percent reduction in visas for the 2009-10 school year – the largest penalty allowed without due process – Aspect has been mandated to implement a corrective action plan, which the Department of State is reviewing. The foundation’s 12-page plan calls for an «Exchange Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities» and mandatory monthly check-ins with students.

An 800-number hot line also has been established by the department so exchange students may call the department directly to report concerns, rather than go through their local coordinators or agencies.

The Office of Inspector General is conducting an internal inspection of department protocol, and an external management audit that would allow the department greater control has been proposed.

«We need a look at our own internal processes, why we did not have oversight in place that could have caught this,» Miller Crouch, acting assistant secretary of state for the department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, said Wednesday.

‘Willing to work’

The Aspect Foundation, which has accepted the 15 percent sanction to give the organization «the opportunity to make staffing changes and to ensure our program’s integrity,» is willing to work with the department to correct any problems, Karen Walsh, a spokeswoman for Aspect, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.

Aspect, which company officials say has an «excellent track record» of 25 years, «fully acknowledges that what happened in Scranton was deplorable and in complete violation of our own strict standards and those of the Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program.»

Aspect’s executive director, Vivian Fearen, was unavailable for an interview, Ms. Walsh said.

Numerous attempts to speak with Mrs. Burgette, who was fired after Aspect learned of the allegations, have been unsuccessful. A cell phone number for Mrs. Burgette has been disconnected.

Mr. Jarbola declined to say when the grand jury would conclude its investigation and possibly recommend charges.

Although the students have returned to their home countries, they are willing to come back to testify at a trial or may provide testimony via the Internet or by video, he said.

«Here these students believed they were coming to the greatest country in the world,» Mr. Jarbola added. «For them to be treated that way, it’s certainly criminal.»

Contact the writer: shofius@timesshamrock.com Timeline

  • May: Allegations surface that foreign exchange students were neglected by local host families. County grand jury convenes.
  • June: U.S. Sen. Bob Casey vows to work with the U.S. Department of State to correct flaws in foreign exchange industry.
  • Now: Grand jury probe expands to Aspect Foundation; Department of State penalizes Aspect.

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2009 Jul 19: Exchange student neglect happened a decade ago, host parent says

The Times Tribune | BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL (STAFF WRITER) | Published: July 19, 2009

Nine years ago, Margaret Marshall says Edna Burgette called to ask her to host a foreign exchange student for «a few days.»

Mrs. Marshall had never met Mrs. Burgette, the local coordinator for a student placement agency, who said she heard from someone that Mrs. Marshall had hosted a student before.

After Mrs. Marshall said she was not interested, Mrs. Burgette told her she was desperate, the student’s host family was painting his room, and she would only have to provide a home for «a few days.»

Mrs. Marshall says she reluctantly agreed.

After «a few days» of hosting Hans, a boy from Denmark, Mrs. Burgette was unreachable.

When Mrs. Marshall finally confronted Mrs. Burgette at her workplace several weeks later, she says Mrs. Burgette put Hans in another home – an apartment that reeked of cat urine and had a cat tending to kittens under the couch.

Mrs. Marshall has described this scenario to officials in the Lackawanna County district attorney’s office and the U.S. State Department and wants both agencies to expand their investigations beyond the alleged neglect of up to 12 students Mrs. Burgette placed in homes this school year.

The situation described by Mrs. Marshall adds to evidence that the alleged neglect of foreign exchange students in Scranton has gone on for years before the recent discovery by law enforcement officials and the federal agency entrusted to oversee exchange programs.

Mrs. Marshall also wants to know why student placement agency and Mrs. Burgette’s employer, the Aspect Foundation, never did anything about the problems.

«I feel that Aspect holds more responsibility than even Mrs. Burgette because they were clearly informed of the situation in Scranton but allowed her to continue for another nine years,» Mrs. Marshall wrote in a complaint to the State Department and district attorney.

A home for Hans

One day after Hans moved from Mrs. Marshall’s home into the second-floor apartment with several children and multiple cats, Mrs. Marshall got a call for help.

Hans, who had paid Aspect for a yearlong taste of American life, begged her to take him back.

«The placement was horrendous,» she said. «It was unfit for any human habitation.»

Mrs. Marshall and her husband welcomed Hans back into their home – one Mrs. Burgette, who was responsible for checking in with the students, knew nothing about, Mrs. Marshall said.

«She never did a background check,» Mrs. Marshall added. «She never stepped foot in my home, She didn’t meet my husband, She never knew anything about it.»

Both Mrs. Marshall and Hans’ parents contacted Aspect and provided detailed descriptions of the experience, and Aspect never responded, she said.

Aspect issued a one-sentence statement on Mrs. Marshall’s complaint: «In light of the ongoing investigation, Aspect Foundation is unable to comment on these allegations.»

Numerous attempts to speak with Mrs. Burgette, who was fired after Aspect learned of the allegations, have been unsuccessful. Mrs. Burgette was paid $400 per student she placed and received bonuses like trips and other stipends from the foundation.

Charges possible

A Lackawanna County grand jury has heard testimony from up to 12 students. Some, like Hans, reported arriving in Scranton and not having a host family secured. Students say they were shuffled from home to home, including living in one with a man who had been convicted of drug-related offenses and another home which was later condemned. At least one required medical attention for lack of adequate food and drink. The students paid more than $10,000 to Aspect for the American experience.

The Department of State is penalizing the California-based Aspect Foundation. The department will limit the number of student visas Aspect can receive in 2009-10 by 15 percent, leading to a potential $540,000 loss of revenue.

The U.S. Office of Inspector General has launched an investigation, and the State Department is scrutinizing the «overall conduct» of Aspect through the years, according to a spokeswoman.

The county grand jury is continuing to consider whether criminal charges are warranted, and the investigation has expanded beyond the actions of Mrs. Burgette to the Aspect Foundation.

District Attorney Andy Jarbola said he received the complaint from Mrs. Marshall on Friday, but refused to elaborate on his office’s response.

«We’ll act accordingly,» he said. Prior complaints

Mrs. Marshall has not been alone in reporting prior problems with Aspect.

Ten years ago, Kathie DelGuercio and her husband met foreign exchange students outside 810 Myrtle St. in Scranton. A girl from Germany invited them in and showed Mrs. DelGuercio where she slept – in a 6-foot-by-6-foot room, on a cushion from a lounge chair.

The same residence at 810 Myrtle St. was condemned in May, after a student from Nigeria, who was placed there by Mrs. Burgette, was found living with floors covered in dog feces.

When Mrs. DelGuercio saw the living conditions of the German girl a decade ago, she took her in and reported the problems to Aspect, she said in May after the most recent allegations surfaced. Mrs. DelGuercio said Aspect never responded to her complaints.

Mrs. Marshall wants more former host parents who took students from Mrs. Burgette to come forward.

«It seems to me that Aspect and Mrs. Burgette cared only about collecting significant fees from these students and after the money was in their pockets, their responsibility ended,» Mrs. Marshall said.

Contact the writer: shofius@timesshamrock.com


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2009 Jul 23: Exchange students say complaints were ignored by program officials

The Times Tribune | By Erin L. Nissley (Staff Writer) | Published: July 23, 2009

When Mussa Hassan, an 18-year-old from Tanzania, told Edna Burgette that he had gone without food for days and had begun seeing blood in his urine, she allegedly told him he would be OK if he just kept drinking water.

When Anna Bardoz, a 17-year-old from Norway, complained to Ms. Burgette about the pet waste covering the floors of a small apartment where she was staying, Ms. Burgette allegedly told her she deserved to be there because of the bad things she had done.

And Carlos Villarreal, an 18-year-old from Colombia, was afraid to complain that he could not wash his clothes for more than two months because he heard what Ms. Burgette had said about other foreign exchange students who complained.

«Edna would say that the students who were complaining were being so ungrateful and ridiculous,» Mr. Villarreal told a county grand jury investigating allegations of neglect of at least 12 foreign exchange students Ms. Burgette placed locally for San Francisco-based Aspect Foundation. Ms. Burgette has been charged by county prosecutors with five counts of endangering the welfare of children.

Although the five students came to Scranton from all over the world, their experiences here had a lot of similarities. All reported having inadequate food and drink, living in filthy conditions and having their complaints ignored by the one person who was supposed to help them.

As a coordinator for Aspect, it was Ms. Burgette’s job to recruit and interview families willing to host a foreign exchange student for half or a whole school year, the grand jury learned. Coordinators are paid $400 to place a student with a family and $20 per month to check in on each student monthly to «make sure everything is going well,» prosecutors said.

If students have complaints, it is the coordinator’s job to resolve them, according to testimony from Aspect Foundation employee Judy Long.

Coordinators are supposed to screen host families before placing students with them. The screening includes a face-to-face interview, criminal background checks for anyone over 18 in the home and verification of at least two personal and one professional reference, Ms. Long told the grand jury.

Prosecutors said Ms. Burgette did not follow procedures in finding host families and did not check in with students as she was supposed to. Four of the five students ended up living with members of Ms. Burgette’s family, and several students told the grand jury that ex-convicts and drug dealers lived in the houses and apartments with them.

Attempts by The Times-Tribune to reach Ms. Burgette over the past few weeks have been unsuccessful. Her attorney, Christopher J. Osborne, declined to comment Wednesday afternoon.

Contact the writer:  enissley@timesshamrock.com


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2009: Foreign-exchange coordinator arrested

The Times Tribune | By Joe McDonald, (staff writer) | Published: July 24, 2009

A Scranton woman who allegedly placed foreign-exchange students in area homes so deplorable that prosecutors called it a crime was arrested Thursday after turning herself in to authorities.

Edna Mary Burgette, 69, of 810 Myrtle St., was charged with five counts of endangering the welfare of children after she showed up at the Lackawanna County district attorney’s office. Detectives had been searching for her since Wednesday but were unable to find her, District Attorney Andy Jarbola said.

«We knew where she was staying,» Mr. Jarbola said. «She wasn’t on the run.»

Ms. Burgette was released on $25,000 unsecured bail at her arraignment before Magisterial District Judge Sean P. McGraw in Carbondale. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Her arrest does not mean investigators have ended their inquiry into the foreign-exchange student scandal centered in Scranton, Mr. Jarbola said.

«The investigation is continuing,» he said. «It’s continuing before the grand jury.»

The grand jury is scheduled to reconvene next week, he said. Last week, Mr. Jarbola said his office was securing records and other information from Aspect Foundation, the agency by which Ms. Burgette was employed.

The charges against Ms. Burgette revolve around five foreign-exchange students who were placed in area homes between August and May by Ms. Burgette, the former area coordinator for San Francisco-based Aspect Foundation. She was fired after the organization learned of the allegations.

The students told investigators they lived in filthy homes, some of which were later condemned. Several said they were living with ex-convicts and drug dealers. At least one student required medical attention for lack of adequate food and drink. All said Ms. Burgette ignored their complaints, even though she was paid by Aspect to place and check up on the students.

According to court papers, a girl from Norway said she was placed in a home filled with dog feces and cat urine on Dickson Avenue, and a boy from Colombia said he was exposed to similar unsanitary conditions at 935 Madison Ave., where he lived with people who had been released from prison and liked to smoke marijuana.

A student from Nigeria who stayed at Jermyn Apartments and at 935 Madison Ave. also said her living conditions included animal feces and life with ex-convicts, as well as very little food.

Two other students, one from Tanzania who lived at a home on Quincy Avenue, the other from Vietnam who also lived on Quincy Avenue, said they were not given enough food.

Contact the writer: jmcdonald@timesshamrock.com


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Vanlige problemer: Bytte familie, kaos, lite mat, ingen hjelp, rettssak

Publisert 16.07.09 – 10:05, endret 16.07.09 – 21:39 (VG NETT) Av Samaria Iqbal

(VG Nett) Den norske jenta Anne og andre utvekslingselever i  Scranton i Pennsylvania, bodde i utrygge hjem, ble neglisjert og var underernærte.

Carlos Villareal (midten) en av utvekslingsstudentene landet i sitt hjemland Colombia søndag. Her poserer han med sine foreldre, lykkelig over å være tilbake. Foto: AP
Carlos Villareal (midten) en av utvekslingsstudentene landet i sitt hjemland Colombia søndag. Her poserer han med sine foreldre, lykkelig over å være tilbake. Foto: AP

Utvekslingselevene som dro til Scranton i deltstaten Pennsylvania skulle få oppleve gledene ved den amerikanske kulturen, samt få  mulighetene til å studere på high school.

I stedet ble oppholdet et mareritt med forsømmelse, underernæring  og manglende oppfølging fra vertsfamiliene, melder CNN. Studentene er nå alle tilbake i sine opprinnelsesland, hvor de forteller venner og bekjente om sine opplevelser.

Den norske jenta Anne, som ikke vil oppgi sitt etternavn, prøvde  forgjeves å kontakte amerikanske myndigheter for å fortelle at de levde under kritikkverdige forhold. Hun fikk ingen respons fra  myndighetene, og henvendte seg deretter til organisasjonen som var ansvarlig for utvekslingselevene.

Ungdommene skal ha blitt neglisjert av sine vertsfamilier, og skal ha vært underernærte. Underernæringen skal ha ført til at flere  studenter skal ha havnet på sykehus.

I tillegg skal den ene studenten ha levd under samme tak som en narkotikadømt kriminell. En annen stundent besvimte under en gymtime på skolen grunnet underernæringen.

Sendte bilder av huset
Anne sendte også bilder av innsiden av huset som hun bodde i. Rektoren på skolen til Anne lot henne bo hos ham for resten av skoleperioden. De andre studentene var ikke like heldige som henne. De bodde nesten i ett helt år i utrygge hjem. Det lokale  barnevernet fikk tips om saken en måned før skoleslutt.

Statsadvokat Andrew Jarbola, sier til CNN at han ser meget  alvorlig på saken.

  • Ungdommene fikk ikke ordentlig mat, hygiene og den slags ting. Jeg vet også at en av ungdommene ble plassert i huset til en dømt  kriminell. Han har blitt dømt for salg av narkotika og andre  narkotikaforbrytelser. Dette er meget alvorlig, sier Jarbola.

Nekter for skyld
Vertsfamiliene benekter at de har gjort noe galt, men beretningene  til studentene forteller en litt annen historie.

  • De fikk ikke mat. En av studentene hadde opplevd at en vertsfamilie hadde teip på maten i kjøleskapet med påskriften – Ikke rør, dette er bare for vertsfamilien. De ble jo neglisjert, sier statsadvokat Jarbola.

Myndighetene krever handling
Amerikanske myndigheter krever nå at det gjøres noe overfor de ansvarlige.

  • Dette er et utvekslingsprogram som er veldig viktig for oss. Vi snakker om 15-18 år gamle ungdommer som blir introdusert for USA. Vi erkjenner at i dette tilfellet og i andre tilfeller rundt om i landet, har vi feilet i å oppnå våre mål, sier en talsmann for det amerikanske innenriksdepartementet til CNN.

Det er den San Francisco- baserte organisasjonen Aspect som sponset alle de 12 studentene i Scranton. De mottok i 2008 en million dollar i offentlig støtte.

Organisasjonen er nå under etterforskning.


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