Juan Sanchez grew up along the Mexican border in a two-bedroom house so crowded with children that he didn’t have a bed. But he fought his way to another life. He earned three degrees, including a doctorate in education from Harvard, before starting a nonprofit in his Texas hometown.
Mr. Sanchez has built an empire on the back of a crisis. His organization, Southwest Key Programs, now houses more migrant children than any other in the nation. Casting himself as a social-justice warrior, he calls himself El Presidente, a title inscribed outside his office and on the government contracts that helped make him rich.
Southwest Key has collected $1.7 billion in federal grants in the past decade, including $626 million in the past year alone. But as it has grown, tripling its revenue in three years, the organization has left a record of sloppy management and possible financial improprieties, according to dozens of interviews and an examination of documents. It has stockpiled tens of millions of taxpayer dollars with little government oversight and possibly engaged in self-dealing with top executives.