• International students won't receive diploma after they claim sponsor ripped them off

    By: Allison Latos

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - This weekend thousands of college students will receive their diplomas from UNC Charlotte and begin exciting careers.

    That’s not the case for two international students from Africa who say their dreams of a degree in America are fading because of a nonprofit that was supposed to help.

    Eyewitness News anchor Allison Latos first reported on their situation last fall.

    [PAST COVERAGE: International students said sponsor ripped them off of thousands of dollars]

    Gaelle Kikwika and Grace Matabishi say their families in Africa saved and sacrificed to give them an opportunity in America.

    “We came for one goal, for one purpose, to get that diploma, to learn English. Get that diploma and do something with it. Make our family proud,” Kikwika said.

    They're seniors at UNCC and will cross the stage at commencement but won't receive their degrees.

    That's because each woman owes $10,000 in outstanding tuition.

    They say they gave their tuition money to Patrice Ognodo, executive director of a Charlotte nonprofit called the Neighborhood Good Samaritan Center.

    “We saw him as our own dad. The way he talks to you. 'You’re my daughter. I’m going to help you,'” Matabishi said.

    They say Ognodo promised to sponsor them at UNCC so they could receive in-state tuition.

    They didn't realize UNCC does not allow nonprofits to sponsor students. The school requires U.S. citizenship or permanent residency.

    The women say Ognodo never paid their tuition. They have receipts and a letter he signed acknowledging he owes each of them more than $16,000 in tuition.

     “I just want to know what he did with the money,” Matabishi said.

    Anchor Allison Latos went to the Neighborhood Good Samaritan Center office for an explanation but had the door shut in her face.

    Central Piedmont Community College, which allows nonprofit sponsorships, told Channel 9 that in the spring of 2017, the Neighborhood Good Samaritan Center failed to pay more than $7,000 in tuition for five students.

    The same semester, another nonprofit, called the Africa National Chamber of Commerce, failed to pay more than $5,100 in tuition for four students it was sponsoring.

    That debt fell back on the students.

    A phone number found online for the Neighborhood Good Samaritan Center is the same one for the Africa National Chamber of Commerce. And when Channel 9 called it, Ognodo answered.

    Ognodo is not listed as an officer on the Africa National Chamber of Commerce website, but a source sent Channel 9 an email from February which shows Ognodo as the executive director.

    Kikwika and Matabishi did go to the police, but 10 months later, their case is still open.

    Earning a diploma was their dream, but it won’t become a reality until their debt is paid.

    “It's our future. It's everything. It represents everything for our family,” Kikwika said.

    Police said the district attorney's office determined they haven't reached the level of probable cause to get a warrant. The DA’s office can't comment.

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