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Worker at Phoenix immigrant shelter arrested for alleged molestation

Fernando Magaz Negrete (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

PHOENIX — A worker at a Phoenix shelter for immigrant children was arrested Tuesday for allegedly sexually abusing a teenager, authorities said Wednesday.

When questioned, 32-year-old Fernando Magaz Negrete admitted kissing and inappropriately touching the 14-year-old girl at the Southwest Key facility on Campbell Avenue near 27th Avenue, according to the police report.

Southwest Key declined to say whether the 14-year-old girl was an immigrant who was separated from her parents at the border. The nonprofit said it has fired Magaz Negrete.

Magaz Negrete was arrested and booked into jail on one count each of molestation of a child, aggravated assault and sexual abuse.

Two witnesses and the victim shared a room at the shelter. Surveillance video showed the suspect approaching the room several times during the night of June 27, although the doorway and interior of the room were out of the camera’s view, according to the report.

Both witnesses said they saw Negrete kissing the girl on the lips that night. One said she saw him enter the room and touch the victim inappropriately.

Police were notified about the alleged incident last week.

A Superior Court judge set Negrete’s bond at $150,000, but he was still in custody of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office as of noon Wednesday. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Aug. 10.

“When a child tells us of inappropriate behavior, we immediately call law enforcement and start an internal investigation as appropriate,” said Southwest Key spokesman Jeff Eller.

“That’s what happened in this case. Southwest Key always works with law enforcement to bring the full force of the law to bear when it is warranted.”

Southwest Key houses immigrant children under the age of 18 who arrive in the United States without a parent or guardian.

While touring immigrant housing facilities in Arizona on June 28, first lady Melania Trump visited the site where the incident occurred.

Shelters that house immigrant children have come under scrutiny since the Trump administration introduced a “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal entries that has led to the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The news website ProPublica published a report in late July saying police responded to at least 125 calls reporting sex offenses at shelters that primarily serve immigrant children since 2014.

The ProPublica report detailed a 2015 incident at a Tucson, Arizona, shelter operated by Southwest Key in which authorities said an employee touched a 15-year-old Honduran boy’s penis from outside his clothing. The worker was fired and later convicted of molestation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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