At least 45 teachers recruited by the company, many of them Spanish-speaking teachers from Colombia, currently teach in public and charter schools in the city, the attorney general’s office said in a statement.
The suit alleges the Bilingual Teacher Exchange falsely said it represented D.C. Public Schools and could sponsor teachers, charging thousands more for visas than legitimate sponsors do before offering teachers usurious loans to pay the fees.
Lopez did not immediately return requests for comment.
According to the suit, the company also said it offered services like school placement, when it did not, and threatened teachers with deportation if they did not sign annual contracts after their first year. The suit alleges the company did not pay teachers who performed administrative paperwork to reduce their debts.
The suit sought, among other relief, an injunction against Lopez and his companies and cancellation of teachers’ debts.
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) said more than a dozen teachers were connected to his office earlier this year by the Washington Teachers’ Union. Racine did not provide a complete list of where they taught.
“They painstakingly detailed the fraud, manipulation and fear that they were suffering from as a result of dealing with Mr. Lopez,” Racine said in an interview.
Samuel Cuadro, a teacher at Alice Deal Middle School in Northwest, said he came to D.C. in 2016 from Colombia to teach math and ended up more than $6,500 in debt to Lopez. Once he was connected to Lopez, Cuadro said, “it was never a choice.”
“You sign, or you don’t get the job,” he said. “Once we were here, it was: ‘You continue with us, or we send you back to Colombia.’”
A statement from D.C. Public Schools said the school district “is aware of the lawsuit and will continue to fully support the Office of the Attorney General’s efforts to protect our teachers from predatory business practices.”
The lawsuit comes as D.C. is expanding its dual language public education offerings across the city. Teachers qualified to teach in a foreign language are generally paid more and harder to recruit.
The attorney general’s office asked any teachers working with Bilingual Teacher Exchange contact officials at (202) 442-9828.
Perry Stein contributed to this report.