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DA Declines Suing Host in Exchange Saga
By Julie Kay
Staff Writer
Exchange students in the Unites States

The 30-year-old Vacaville woman investigated on suspicion of stealing money from and behaving inappropriately with an exchange student she hosted last fall will not be charged with any crime, according to the Solano County District Attorney's Office.
And, while complaints against the exchange organization that placed the student have been filed with the U.S. State Department and another oversight group, the New York-based PAX will likely avoid penalty.

"I'm extremely disappointed..that someone can get away with this," said Vacaville Rotary Club member Lauren Osborne, who befriended the young man from Ghana during his time here.

The young man, whose name is not used in this article to protect his privacy, spent last year as a student at Vacaville High School. He excelled in his classes and played on the school's soccer team.

His first few weeks were tough. PAX originally placed the then-17-year-old in a Trower neighborhood home Rotary Club members describe as "dilapidated." Within weeks, the young man told a teammate and a school counselor that his host mother there had stolen his money.

In October, the young man moved to the home of Michelle Dickey, who had volunteered to take him in. The Rotary Club also "adopted"

him, taking him sightseeing and providing him a monthly stipend. At first, the exchange student's story seemed one of early misfortune and a happy ending.
But at the end of 2005, information surfaced which propelled the case into the hands of the Vacaville police as well as those of U.S. State Department officials. Since then, the young man's allegations have traveled through two separate corridors of justice, yet no known punishment has been levied.

In December, Dickey discovered inappropriate e-mails on her computer from the first host mother to the young man. She confronted the student, who responded with embarrassment but eventually agreed to go to police to report the alleged theft and inappropriate behavior, Dickey said.

According to police, officers videotaped interviews with the young man, Dickey, and the first host mother, obtained copies of bank records, and confiscated the original host mother's computer for evidence. Officers made multiple unsuccessful attempts to locate the host mother again, they said. They eventually handed the case over to the district attorney for further investigation. Last month, district attorney officials said they had closed the case, lacking sufficient evidence to prosecute it.

Meanwhile, the young man's case was simultaneously making its way through another justice system, one administered by the U.S. State Department, whose Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs oversees the nation's exchange visitor program.

Danielle Grijalva, president of the nonprofit Committee for the Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, had learned of the young man's case through an article in The Reporter. In June the Southern California woman filed a complaint with the State Department on his behalf.

Grijalva filed the same complaint with the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel, a Virginia-based foundation that evaluates exchange organizations yearly to decide whether they will be included on its annual list of approved programs.

More than four months later, Grijalva has received no information on the status of her complaints. No matter how frustrating the shroud of secrecy may be, the advocate who has filed complaints on behalf of scores of exchange students throughout the United States understands that it is standard procedure in these cases.

According to a Nov. 2 e-mail from CSIET Executive Director John Hishmeh, "the details of the evaluation of applying organizations is considered to be confidential and restricted to communications between CSIET and the given organizations." CSIET's track record, though, is of very rarely excluding any exchange organization it evaluates from its list.

Despite repeated phone and e-mail inquiries during the course of a week, State Department officials did not respond to questions about its complaint procedure.

PAX President Libby Cryer, meanwhile, has steadfastly defended her organization, refused to reimburse any stolen money, and denied any wrongdoing.

Cryer admitted this week she knew about the e-mails to the young man from the first host mother, but defended her decision not to report them to the State Department, despite federal law which requires the reporting of questionable behavior on the part of host family members.

"PAX staff, both the community representative and senior staff in the national office, spoke personally with [the exchange student] to confirm that he did not wish to pursue this matter," she replied in an e-mail to Reporter staff last week.

Community representative Nancy Major, however, had a different account, saying she had no further contact with the exchange student after she reported the e-mails to her supervisor.

But even this contradiction is beside the point, said Grijalva. The law states clearly that all inappropriate behavior on the part of any host family member must be reported to the State Department, regardless of whether the student asks for it to be reported or not.

Dickey expressed outrage over the way PAX has handled the situation.

"I think it's a disgrace," she said.

Julie Kay can be reached at






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