TUCSON — Dr. Juan Sanchez, commonly referred to as “El Presidente,” is stepping down as the CEO of the embattled Southwest Key organization.
Sanchez, who founded the organization in 1987, leaves the organization amid a federal investigation.
Sanchez, previously listed on Southwest Key’s website as “El Presidente/CEO,” graduated from Harvard University with a doctorate from the School of Education.
Under his leadership, the organization has grown to be the largest nonprofit organization that processes Unaccompanied Alien Children through contracts with the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
According to the Texas Tribune, Southwest Key has received $1.1 billion in federal funds since the start of 2016.
With his annual salary set at $1.5 million, and an interest in properties the nonprofit leases, according to the Texas Tribune, Sanchez has become a wealthy man off of exploited and endangered children.
It was the abuse and neglect of those children that likely lead to Southwest Key’s announcement on Monday that Sanchez would be temporarily replaced by Chief Operating Office Joella Brooks.
“Recent events have convinced me that Southwest Key would benefit from a fresh perspective and new leadership,” Sanchez said in a written statement. “Widespread misunderstanding of our business and unfair criticism of our people has become a distraction our employees do not deserve. It’s time for new beginnings.”
Those events include the conviction of a Southwest Key employee, Levian D. Pacheco, age 25, on seven counts of abusive sexual contact with wards of Southwest Key. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Pacheco sexually abused multiple Unaccompanied Alien Children at the Casa Kokopelli Southwest Key Facility in Mesa, Arizona between August 2016 and July 2017.
In 2015, current and former employees of Southwest Key began reaching out to the Arizona Daily Independent to expose the abuses they saw on a daily basis at the Tucson shelter. They described “a prison-like facility operated by an organization that views children as commodities and the employees as rent-a-cops, whose most important mission is keep their mouths shut while the organization does all it can to keep costs down and kids coming.”
Employees reported that they were instructed to ignore or at least remain silent while vulnerable children were released to dangerous traffickers and other sponsors, who went through questionable vetting processes.
Social workers described how they were instructed to remain quiet while suspected criminals, including MS-13 gang members were processed and released into the community as minors in need of shelter.
Employees explained that the children were told that lucky to be in the shoddy shelters and beneficiaries of the benevolent “El Presidente.” According to those same employees, the children were instructed to encourage other children to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. with human smugglers in order to keep the shelters full.
Related article: Unaccompanied Children To Receive Services From Southwest Key
According to The New York Times, the Department of Justice is investigating Southwest Key for financial violations.