DC recruiting firm accused of pretending to be visa sponsor shuts down, AG’s office says

A recruiting firm accused of charging high fees and falsely claiming to be an official visa sponsor has been shut down, D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb said in a news release Thursday.

Earl Francisco Lopez and the teacher recruitment companies he ran, including the Bilingual Teacher Exchange, are accused of “preying upon dozens of foreign exchange program teachers” by lying about affiliation with the U.S. State Department, Schwalb’s office said.

Lopez traveled to Honduras, Colombia and other Central or South American countries to recruit teachers, said Wendy Weinberg, senior assistant attorney general in the D.C. Office of the Attorney General. He told them, Weinberg said, that he could help them get visas and could offer support services once they got to the U.S.

However, Lopez wasn’t the visa sponsor. Instead, Weinberg said, he worked with a company that served as the actual visa sponsor. He recruited over 60 teachers to work in D.C. public or public charter schools. They accused him of failing to provide the services he promised that he would.

The teachers approached Schwalb’s office with their concerns when they learned that Lopez wasn’t actually their visa sponsor and when they figured out he couldn’t deport them or have them fired, which he’s accused of threatening to do, Weinberg said.

“Being trapped in an elaborate scam — and discovering that you’ve fallen victim to labor trafficking — is gut-wrenching and shakes you to your core,” said Dulce Maria Nuñez Zaldivar, a middle school teacher who is originally from Honduras, in a statement. “When I learned that Mr. Lopez had manipulated and exploited me and so many others for his own gain, the fear was suffocating. I felt like I was trapped in a nightmare with no escape.”

Lopez charged most of the teachers about $6,500 for the first year, $5,000 for the second year and $3,700 for the third year, Weinberg said.

The teachers were recruited to participate in a three-year State Department exchange program. The actual visa sponsor offering the same services was charging $1,500 per year, Weinberg said.

“He was charging people these high fees, which many of the teachers had trouble paying,” Weinberg said. “They were obviously surviving on teacher salaries, and many had to borrow money in order to come over here. When people didn’t pay, he threatened them with deportation, he threatened them with losing their jobs and was charging late fees that were illegal under D.C. law.”

Lopez is also accused of failing to help the teachers get housing and set up with Social Security numbers and required vaccines. The classroom trainings “were not appropriate” for experienced teachers who knew the fundamentals of classroom management, Weinberg said.

Lopez is also accused of telling teachers they could only work in D.C. schools if they signed contracts with his companies, such as Bilingual Teacher Exchange, Ives Hall Consulting, Inc. and Bert Corona Leadership Institute, Inc.

As part of a settlement agreement, Schwalb’s office said Lopez’s recruitment firm is permanently shutting down. The teachers will receive restitution, and Weinberg said the attorney general’s office will “be monitoring his activities and looking at his contracts with consumers. If he violated any of the terms of the agreement, he is subject to having to pay the District $1 million.”

Weinberg recommends that anyone working with a person claiming to be a legitimate visa sponsor visit the State Department’s website, which has a list of authorized sponsors.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2024 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up