EAST HONOLULU, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - House Speaker Scott Saiki has canceled a capital internship program for students from China amid allegations that some of the students were being exploited.
The program is supposed to be part of a cultural exchange, but Saiki said he was concerns that the internships were for sale.
"It is unsettling that private foreign entities are monetarily profiting from … the goodwill of individual members and the Legislature," Saiki wrote, in a May 8 memo to House members.
Rep. Matt LoPresti, who blew the whistle on the program, hosted three interns.
He said he found out that one of them, a 16-year-old girl, wasn't even being fed by her hosts.
"I think the students were mistreated. I think they were lied to. I think they taken advantage of and it certainly seemed unusual and suspicious on how this was going down," he said.
Each of the students and their parents pay $5,000 to $6,000 to a placement firm in China to spend two weeks shadowing lawmakers and learning about Hawaii's legislative process.
LoPresti said a certificate or letter of recommendation the interns get at the end of their internship can help them get into good college in China or even get a job.
Hawaii Realtor Haotian Bai, who was hired by the Chinese placement firms to arrange several of these internships, denied the students were being exploited.
He said that of the $5,000 that the interns paid, $1,500 went toward housing. He said students are supposed to pay for their own meals.