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Suit: New Mexico firm cheats Philippine teachers

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The state Attorney General’s Office is accusing a New Mexico-based company of taking advantage of Philippine teachers it’s bringing to the U.S.

On Tuesday the AG’s Office filed a lawsuit in 2nd Judicial District Court in Albuquerque against Total Teaching Solutions International and CEO Janice Bickert alleging violations of the state Unfair Practices Act by charging nearly four times what similar companies charge and for misleading teachers about its ability to obtain proper work visas.

According to the lawsuit, clients who don’t pay monthly fees are threatened with legal action and being reported to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“NM has a critical teacher shortage, and it is vital that recruitment of incoming teachers not be used to exploit teachers that are lawfully supported by school districts,” Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement. “I will continue to fight to make sure those coming to New Mexico to teach our children are protected from predatory businesses.”

The lawsuit seeks to impose a civil penalty of $5,000 for each violation of the Unfair Practices Act and to force TTSI to pay restitution to those who gave the company money as a result of the unlawful practices.

Bickert did not respond to an email from the Journal on Tuesday. The lawsuit notes that Bickert is married to Superintendent of Ruidoso Schools, George Bickert.

The lawsuit says the company charged Philippine teachers $15,000 for its services, whereas similar companies charge around $4,000.

“The services actually provided by TTSI results in a gross disparity between the value received by the Filipino teachers and the price paid as evidenced by companies providing nearly identical services for similarly situated Filipino teachers at nearly one third of the cost,” the lawsuit says.

Once in the U.S., the lawsuit contends, clients are forced to pay previously undisclosed fees, and those who aren’t able to pay the required $400 monthly payments face late fees.

“Teachers who have not been able to pay have been threatened with being reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or with a change in their immigration status,” the lawsuit says.

TTSI has filed at least eight breach-of-contract complaints against teachers in Carrizozo Magistrate Court, according to the lawsuit.

The suit also says TTSI told applicants that it could help them get their J-1 visas, which allow people from other countries to teach in the U.S. for five years, even though the company didn’t have the ability to do that.

“Defendants committed an act of fraud when (they) represented to Filipino teachers that it (they) would assist them in obtaining J-1 Visas while knowing that they it had no authority to obtain these Visas on behalf of the Filipino teachers,” the lawsuit alleges.

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