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State Department suspends student exchange organization in the wake of Rock Center report

By Anna Schecter
Rock Center

The State Department has punished a student exchange organization in the wake of a Rock Center probe which examined cases of sexual abuse of high school foreign exchange students.

Watch the full Rock Center investigation HERE.

San Diego-based Pacific Intercultural Exchange (P.I.E), one of the organizations highlighted in the March 14 report, was banned from participating in the State Department program.

As reported by Rock Center, P.I.E. placed a 16-year-old German exchange student in the home of a single host father, 51-year-old Craig Ley, who repeatedly sexually abused the student in his Oregon home over the course of the 2009 academic school year.

Lawyers for the student filed suit against Ley and P.I.E., alleging sexual battery, negligence, breach of contract and violation of the Unlawful Trade Practice Act.

According to the lawsuit, P.I.E allowed Ley to host the boy despite a 2004 federal felony for mail fraud in which Ley, an insurance claims manager, processed a false insurance claim using the name and joint bank account of an exchange student he was hosting at the time. In addition, Ley, who is divorced, was in bankruptcy between 2005 and 2010 but was allowed to host the boy in 2009. 

P.I.E. has vigorously fought the lawsuit, asserting that the sex between Ley and the boy was consensual.  The case is set to go to trial later this month.

Ley pleaded guilty to four counts of second-degree sex abuse in 2010 and was sentenced to five years in prison.

A State Department official said P.I.E. was suspended for violating the Department’s regulations “that directly affect the health, safety and welfare of students,”

“Given the formal process for sanctioning a sponsor,” the official said, “we cannot comment further on the situation at this time…Our primary concern is for the health, safety and welfare of the participants in these programs, and our decision was based on this concern.”

The German student victimized by Ley is one of dozens of exchange students who have alleged that they have been sexually abused by host parents.

Fifty high school foreign exchange students reported being sexually abused or harassed by a host parent during the 2010-2011 school year alone, according to data released by the State Department in response to the March Rock Center report.  

A State Department official said this is a small percentage of the 25,000 foreign high-school students who come to America on special visas each year.

Rock Center interviewed two students who were sexually abused by the same host father.  Educational Resource Development Trust (E.R.D.T.) placed the second student in the home of the perpetrator in 2005 even after the first student had alerted the organization about the host father’s inappropriate conduct the year before.

The students filed suit in 2010 and E.R.D.T. settled for an undisclosed amount without admitting liability. E.R.D.T. was never sanctioned by the State Department and is still operating.

Despite its suspension, P.I.E is still listed as one of the 82 exchange organizations that the State Department endorses to bring students to the U-S.

The P.I.E. website still advertises student exchange and features a video of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsing the State Department exchange programs.

P.I.E President John Doty is the former Executive Director of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET), the trade association that lobbies on behalf of the organizations that bring students to the U.S. under the umbrella of the State Department’s “Secondary School” exchange program.

P.I.E. did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

An employee of P.I.E. said the organization is still operating, and is communicating with the State Department in order to “work this out.”

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