Southwest Key Worker Charged With Sexually Molesting 8 Kids At Immigrant Detention Center
A youth care worker at the Southwest Key Kokopelli shelter in Mesa, Arizona, was charged in August 2017 with 11 sex offenses for allegedly molesting at least eight unaccompanied immigrant boys between August 2016 and July 2017.
ProPublica identified the accused Southwest Key employee as Levian D. Pacheco, who is HIV-positive.
According to authorities, Pacheco performed oral sex on two of the teens and tried to force one of the teens to penetrate him anally. The other six teens claimed that Pacheco groped them through their clothing.
The Arizona Department of Health Services reportedly cited Casa Kokopelli in 2017 for failing to complete background checks, including fingerprinting.
Pacheco reportedly worked for Southwest Key for nearly four months without a complete background check.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said HHS issued a stop placement order and removed all unaccompanied minors from the Casa Kokopelli shelter, but Wolfe refused to say when that stop placement order was made.
Jeff Eller, a spokesman for Southwest Key, was asked by ProPublica how Pacheco’s alleged actions could have escaped detection for 11 months.
Eller refused to answer the question, and stated: “Any employee accused of abuse is immediately suspended and law enforcement called. This is what we did in this case.”
ProPublica also asked Eller how Southwest Key could assure the public that children are safe in its facilities.
Eller replied: “We find the premise of your question dishonorable. We report these cases to law enforcement and state agencies when they happen. We educate every child in our care upon arrival to the facility of their right to be free from abuse or neglect in this program and this country. This message is repeated to the children throughout the duration of their stay at our shelters.”
According to federal court records, Southwest Key officials were oblivious that Pacheco had been abusing boys for months, and only learned of the abuse because one of the boys spoke up.
Southwest Key has received more than $1.3 billion in taxpayer money for the shelters and other services over the past five years, which includes more than $500 million in 2018.
Southwest Key claims that it is a “nonprofit organization” on its website.
Southwest Key keeps children under lock and key at its detention centers, but Southwest Key claims on its website that it “is committed to keeping kids out of prisons and detention centers and home with their families, in school, and in their communities.”