A Southwest Key youth-care worker is facing multiple sex offense charges after being accused of molesting at least eight unaccompanied boys over the time span of a year at one of the government youth shelters in Mesa, Ariz.
Levian D. Pacheco, who is HIV-positive, is accused of performing oral sex on two of the teens and tried to force one of them to penetrate him anally. The other six teens were allegedly groped through their clothing. The boys range in age from 15 to 17, with all the incidents taking place between August 2016 and July 2017, according to Pro Publica.
To make matters worse, the facility in which Pacheco worked was cited in 2017 for failing to complete background checks for its employees to ensure that no one had previously committed sex offenses and other crimes. Pacheco had been working at Southwest Key’s Casa Kokopelli shelter for almost four months without a complete background check, though those documents did not show any previous arrests or convictions for sex offenses, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services officials, Pro Publica reports.
Pacheco was indicted back in August 2017 after a joint investigation by local law enforcement and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services inspector general’s office, Pro Publica notes. He is facing eight counts of abusive sexual contact with a ward and three counts of sexual acts with a ward. The 25-year-old is currently in the custody of the U.S. Marshals and has denied all allegations.
Unfortunately, these children are not the first nor close to the only children being subject to alleged abuse at these government-subsidized shelters that the Trump administration has claimed are safe and even “fun.”
Last month a report from Reveal exposed horrific accusations of mistreatment of the youth in the care of the government including negligence, physical and sexual abuse, and even forcible injections of drugs.
This speaks nothing to the psychological trauma that is also dealt to these children, first from being forcibly separated from their parents, only to be subject to further harm.
A former staffer at another Arizona shelter, this time in Tuscon, claimed that workers only received “a week’s worth of training, which included CPR” before they were put to care for the traumatized children. Many of them also had no professional experience caring for children.
HHS spokesperson Kenneth Wolfe told Pro Publica in an email that the agency has removed all unaccompanied children from the Casa Kokopelli shelter, and that a stop placement order has been issued.
“These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families treats our responsibility for each child with the utmost care,” he said. “Any allegation of abuse or neglect is taken seriously.”
Meanwhile, Southwest Key spokesperson Jeff Eller declined to explain how Pacheco’s alleged behavior went unnoticed for so long while insisting that children are ensured of their right to be free of abuse or neglect.
“We report these cases to law enforcement and state agencies when they happen,” he said. “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.”
Pacheco’s trial in the case is scheduled to start on Aug. 28.