Shelter worker convicted of sexually abusing migrant boys

A former youth care worker accused of sexually abusing teenage boys at a federally funded Arizona migrant sh...

Posted: Sep 12, 2018 12:09 PM
Updated: Sep 12, 2018 12:09 PM

A former youth care worker accused of sexually abusing teenage boys at a federally funded Arizona migrant shelter has been convicted on several counts of sexual abuse, the Justice Department said.

Levian Pacheco was convicted of seven counts of abusive sexual contact with a ward and three counts of sexual abuse of a ward in a seven-day trial that ended last week, the department said in a Monday news release. That's a conviction on all but one count with which he was charged. He originally faced an additional count of abusive sexual contact with a ward.

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Sentencing is slated for December 3.

"Ensuring the safety of all individuals held in federal custody is of utmost importance to this office," First Assistant US Attorney Elizabeth Strange said, adding that the verdict "sends a message to others in positions of trust that these crimes will not be tolerated."

The abuse occurred between August 2016 and July 2017 at Southwest Key's Casa Kokopelli facility in Mesa, court records show. It was part of the US government's network of privately run facilities intended to care for unaccompanied minors, according to court documents.

Pacheco began working there in May 2016.

The seven boys he was convicted of abusing, some on multiple occasions, were between 15 and 17, according to court documents. They were being held in detention pending possible deportation, and Pacheco, a youth care worker, supervised the minors, the Justice Department said.

Pacheco touched six of the children's genitalia over their clothes, performed oral sex on two boys and attempted to have anal sex with one of them, court documents alleged.

"The age of these individuals, their separation from parents and relatives, and the hazardous journey they take make unaccompanied alien children especially vulnerable to human trafficking, exploitation and abuse," an affidavit issued before the trial said.

Jeff Eller, a Southwest Key spokesman, said in a statement last month that employees accused of abuse are immediately suspended and that police are contacted. The nonprofit group runs migrant children's shelters in several states, including Arizona, Texas and California.

Eller said the abuse was reported to state authorities as well as to the US Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for the care of unaccompanied migrant children.

"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," he said. "This message is repeated to the children throughout the duration of their stay at our shelters."

The US Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement after Pacheco's arrest that it removed all children from the Mesa, Arizona, shelter.

In early August, the Southwest Key facility in Phoenix saw one of its employees arrested on suspicion of molesting a 14-year-old girl at the center. The girl and two of her roommates accused the employee of kissing her at the Phoenix facility in June, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by CNN affiliate KTVK.

One of the roommates also alleged the employee inappropriately touched the girl, the affidavit said.

Last month, ProPublica reported that police had responded to at least 125 calls in the past five years alleging sex offenses at shelters that house immigrant children.

The investigative nonprofit said police reports and call logs also document allegations of fights and missing children.

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