A youth care worker employed by Southwest Key, a federally contracted nonprofit in charge of caring for thousands of immigrant children, has been charged with 11 sex offenses at Casa Kokopelli, one of the company’s shelters in Mesa, Arizona, according to federal court records obtained by ProPublica.
The records show that from August 2016 and July 2017, Levian Pacheco molested at least eight immigrant boys between the ages of 15 and 17 who crossed the southern border into the United States unaccompanied.
The allegations against Pacheco, who is HIV-positive, include that he performed oral sex on two of the immigrant teenagers and tried to force the other to penetrate him anally. The remaining six teens said the employee groped them through their clothing.
The case is currently making its way through a U.S. District Court in Phoenix, Arizona with Pacheco’s trial set for August 28.
Casa Kokopelli had previously been cited by the Arizona Department of Health Services in 2017 for failing to complete background checks, including fingerprinting to see if an employee had a previous history of sex crimes or other criminal behavior. Pacheco reportedly worked at Casa Kokopelli for almost four months without a complete background check. When completed, his background check came back clear of any previous arrests, convictions, or sex offenses.
Lax background checks at shelters for migrant children, including those operated by Southwest Key, are reportedly a common occurrence. As a former employee at one of the company’s eight Arizona facilities told ProPublica, “You could say, ‘Oh I babysit my sister’ and they’d hire you.’”
On Tuesday, another youth care worker at an Arizona Southwest Key facility was arrested for allegedly sexually abusing teenage girl. The suspect allegedly kissed the 14-year-old girl multiple times and touched her breasts and crotch over her clothes in the bedroom she shared with two other minors.
According to the Phoenix Police Department, the suspect admitted to his involvement and was booked into jail on one count each of molestation, aggravated assault, and sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse inside shelters that house immigrant children and teens is a problem that extends beyond Southwest Key facilities. As ThinkProgress has previously reported, a man with a documented history of sex crimes is currently employed at a shelter for unaccompanied minors and children separated at the border. The facility maintains that because he does not have direct access to the children, he poses no threat. But a previous employee told ThinkProgress that children have to walk past his office to see their counselor. The employee’s crimes were settled out of court, and therefore did not appear on any state background check.
Last week, ProPublica published call logs from more than two-thirds of youth immigrant shelters run and/or contracted by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement describing rampant abuse. Many of the logs included incidents at Southwest Key facilities.
According to the report, a 46-year-old youth care worker at a Southwest Key facility in Tuscon, Arizona was fired and convicted after repeatedly molesting a 15-year-old Honduran boy. Another boy at the same facility claimed a staff member frequently caressed his arm and commented on the size of his genitalia. The child reportedly hid in bathrooms to avoid contact with the employee.