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Student agency accused of neglect

Associated Press / July 11, 2009
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ALLENTOWN, Pa. - A California nonprofit placed foreign exchange students in deplorable conditions in Pennsylvania, with some becoming malnourished or living in homes strewn with dog feces, and a prosecutor said the neglect merits criminal charges.

Michelle Olshefski, Lackawanna County deputy district attorney, said an investigation has confirmed that foreign exchange students were placed in unsuitable homes by a former employee of the Aspect Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that brings about 1,000 exchange students to the United States each year.

“The DA’s office is convinced that criminal activity occurred, that there was a pattern of criminal neglect and a pattern of placing these children in danger, not only of physical harm but emotional and psychological harm,’’ said Olshefski, head of the special victims unit. “We believe that criminal charges are warranted.’’

Edna Burgette, a former area coordinator with Aspect, was fired after allegations surfaced in May that students were malnourished and living in homes whose floors were covered with dog feces. Burgette was paid $400 for each student she placed. A woman who answered the phone at Burgette’s house hung up on a reporter yesterday.

The US State Department, which regulates private student exchange organizations like Aspect, has imposed a range of penalties on the nonprofit, including a 15 percent reduction in the number of visas it will be allowed to distribute next school year.