A federal jury has convicted a former Southwest Key employee of molesting multiple boys at a migrant shelter in Mesa.
Authorities say Levian Pacheco sexually abused unaccompanied minors ranging in age from 15 to 17 while they were being held at a Casa Kokopelli Southwest Key Facility over an 11-month period.
Pacheco was found guilty Friday of seven counts of abusive sexual contact with a ward and three counts of sexual abuse of a ward.
In his role as a youth care worker, Pacheco, who is HIV positive, was responsible for supervising the minors held in detention while they waited to find out whether they would be deported.
A boy from Guatemala said Pacheco came into his bathroom and groped him as he washed his hands, according to court documents. Another said he was abused while in medical isolation three times. A third teenager said Pacheco tried to engage in anal sex with him.
The jury convicted him of abusing seven different boys — some of them multiple times.
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Southwest Key spokesman Jeff Eller said in a statement that trial testimony proved the organization acted immediately after they learned of the assaults and placed Pacheco on suspension.
“We are grieved that abuse occurred in one of our shelters and, with the victims,
take comfort in justice having been served,” Ellis said. “As an organization, we believe in transparency.”
Sentencing was scheduled for Dec. 3.
Before Trump ‘zero tolerance’ policy
The abuse occurred before the Trump administration enforced the controversial “zero tolerance” policy that ordered the separation of children from their families after they illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.
Most of the children at the facility while Pacheco was employed were being held after they illegally entered the country by themselves.
The Texas-based nonprofit houses more than 1,500 migrant children in Arizona, California and Texas under a $458 million contract with the federal Unaccompanied Alien Children Program.
Eight of those facilities are in Arizona.
Conditions at the shelters came under scrutiny earlier this year after the zero-tolerance policy began.
An investigation by The Arizona Republic found multiple reports of sexual abuse and harassment at both the Glendale and Tucson locations.
Pacheco’s was just the latest child-molestation conviction of a staff member at an Arizona migrant center.
Oscar Trujillo, a Tucson facility employee, was convicted of class 5 sexual abuse after he inappropriately touched a 15-year-old boy and tried to pull his pants down in 2015.
Fernando Magaz Negrete, 32, was arrested in July on suspicion of molesting a 14-year-old girl while he was an employee of a Southwest Key facility in Phoenix. Court documents alleged he kissed the girl multiple times and touching her breasts and crotch over her clothes in the bedroom she shared with two other minors at the facility.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges in August.