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Georgia to investigate students' stranding

The state of Georgia has begun an investigation into the stranding of thousands of students from Florida and other states who went to Atlanta for Olympic jobs.

Investigators are questioning officials of two companies that recruited the students and two others that hired the recruiting companies, said Carolyn Mills of the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs.

Stranded in Atlanta on Friday were 700 students from Florida, including nearly 200 from the Tampa Bay area. Others were from Texas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Hawaii, California, Colorado, Iowa, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah and other states, officials said. In all, more than 2,000 teenagers traveled to Atlanta for the jobs program.

John Phifer, 17, a senior at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport, said Monday night that an investigation is appropriate.

"I think something should be done about it," Phifer said. "I think the guy in charge should be punished."

Phifer said he gave up a summer job at Norris and Samon Pump Service in St. Petersburg to go to Atlanta. He expects to find out in two weeks whether he will get that job back.

"The owner's a pretty good guy," he said. "It should work out."

Eighty-seven students from Hawaii were treated to dinner and a U.S.-Korean baseball game Monday by Anheuser-Busch Co. The company also chartered a plane to fly the students home early Tuesday. They had spent the past three days sleeping on a floor at a Red Cross shelter.

"I never want to come back again," said Shani Sanchez, 17, of Kaui, Hawaii. "All of us are just really disgusted."

Ms. Mills said she's not sure any criminal activity was involved, because the students did not pay the companies any money. But the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has been asked to look into the situation, she said.

"On the surface, it doesn't appear to be a situation where there's intent (to defraud), but you can't tell until you've actually looked at all the information available," she said. "No money changed hands, but they did give up summer jobs . . . and they reorganized their lives.

"We've got to look at the entire picture and determine the best way to resolve the problem."

John Bankhead, a spokesman for the GBI, said no charges had been filed Monday.

The companies are Event Management & Marketing Associates Inc. and Creative Travel Services Inc., both run by Merle Zmak Jr., and the two companies he hired to recruit workers: Summer Games Employment Services and Atlanta Recruiting Inc.

Ms. Mills said the companies recruited about 3,000 teenagers and young adults to work at kiosks, selling souvenirs and other products during the Olympics.

The students said they were promised jobs, Olympic tickets, meals and beds at two schools.

But a fire marshal closed the schools last week, saying the arrangements were unsafe. And the students said their jobs never materialized.

Although many of the stranded students were put up in motels, some later were asked to leave because the motels weren't sure they would be paid.

Sharon Goldmacher, a spokeswoman for Zmak's companies, said Zmak had planned to have 10 groups of kiosks around Atlanta to lease to vendors who would hire the students. Only four of the 10 areas actually opened, and they were staffed by local workers, she said. "I don't believe any of the ones from out of town got jobs because of the accommodations problem," she said.

Zmak was not available for comment Monday, she said.

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