Babeu's Reckless and Threatening Behavior Have Enmeshed Him in a Career-Ending Scandal
Despite public pleas for pity, Sheriff Paul Babeu dwells now in a hell entirely of his own making, licked by self-stoked flames of hypocrisy and deceit.
To hear him tell it, you'd think Babeu was a martyr for gay liberation, wrongly outed as a homosexual by my colleague Monica Alonzo's February 17 report on the threats he and his lawyer/campaign adviser Chris DeRose allegedly made to the sheriff's Mexican ex-lover, Jose Orozco.
Specifically, these threats were that the 34-year-old man could be deported if he did not sign a non-disclosure agreement promising not to reveal his affair with the sheriff, according to Orozco and his attorney. This proposed swap of silence for sanctuary has exposed Babeu to two investigations involving his abuse of power as a high-ranking law enforcement official.
In reality, Babeu outed himself. Both as a gay man and as a political charlatan willing to say or do anything to get elected, going so far as to strong-arm his former lover into remaining quiet about the sheriff's sexual orientation.
At his February 18 press conference to deny some of the allegations raised by Alonzo's article, Babeu played the victim while admitting his orientation before a horde of journalists.
"This is 20-plus years that I've had numerous people [who] would threaten this to me, to expose me, go to my chain of command — even in the military — and have done so," he said.
"And so it's almost a relief today," he continued. "To be able to not be threatened. Because not only is that not fair to define people along those very personal, those very private, parts of who they are. That's how I've lived my life and defined myself."
Really? I thought Babeu defined himself as a TV-slick huckster of hate, a border hawk ever eager to scapegoat the undocumented as dangerous criminals and to scoff at any compassionate and common-sense solutions to their plight, earning him the praise of Tea Party backers.
Standing before the Pinal County Sheriff's Office in Florence, his supporters and uniformed underlings standing behind him, Babeu depicted New Times' revelations as the product of his political enemies, a story meant to "malign and attack a sheriff who does stand for conservative principle, who does enforce the law."
Nice try, but Babeu didn't deny that as "studboi1" he'd been trolling for sex on the gay hookup site adam4adam.com, with a personal web page peppered with explicit male pornography, wherein he described himself as "out" and detailed the size and shape of his penis.
Anyone can access the site without paying, and on it Babeu posted a photo of himself bare-chested, displaying a distinctive tribal tattoo. Ironically, it was Orozco, Babeu's lover at the time, who warned the sheriff that he should delete the page for reasons that should be obvious to any public official, especially one intending to run for Congress in the ultra-right-wing 4th Congressional District.
Babeu did not heed his boyfriend's advice. Orozco said Babeu had similar pages on other sites. He and Babeu met through gay.com. And it was through adam4adam.com that Orozco says he caught Babeu cheating on him and engaging in even riskier behavior.
In 2010, the disgruntled Orozco contacted Babeu as "Matt" and began a days-long sexting correspondence via cell phone. The messages included graphic descriptions of various sex acts, and at one point, Babeu sent Matt a nude photo of himself with an erection.
Before sending the nude photo, Babeu explained to this unbeknownst-to-him fictional individual, that he was "in law enforcement," a sheriff.
"That's why I must be discrete [sic]," Babeu wrote.
But the Fox News darling and conservative icon hardly was discreet, and how could he not know that he was playing Russian roulette with his political career?
When Babeu showed up for his rendezvous with Matt at a Queen Creek bar — and realized that Matt was, in fact, his betrayed lover — he confessed to Orozco that he had worried "it was a reporter trying to catch me."
It certainly could have been. A half-nude photo on adam4adam.com of a man suspected of being Babeu would have been enough to tempt almost any reporter.
The media-savvy sheriff no doubt was familiar with the case of two New York congressmen, Chris Lee and Anthony Weiner, who in separate incidents last year were revealed to have sexted photos of their shirtless selves to women.
In Weiner's case, he also Tweeted a close-up of his underwear-swathed privates and texted explicit snapshots to would-be lovers. He engaged in texted sex talk, as well. Both he and Lee ended up resigning from their congressional seats.
Answering questions about the comparisons to Weiner, Babeu responded that he, unlike Weiner, is not married.
"Not only as a single guy, and as someone who lives very privately, all of [the photos and texts distributed were] blocked," Babeu contended to a Channel 12 reporter in the wake of the scandal. "It's like it was for the intent of whoever . . . I share my personal life with."
But how can Babeu contend he lives "very privately" when he sent nude photos to a man named Matt whom he'd never met?
I've heard of cognitive dissonance, but this is the first time I've ever seen it used as a talking point.
True, Babeu isn't married. In fact, if he wanted to marry another man in Arizona, he couldn't. Arizona has a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
During the media event featuring the sheriff's employees, Babeu, when asked about gay marriage and gays in the military, expressed support for both.
It's a sure bet that Babeu would not have taken either one of these stands before being forced to come out. In GOP-dominated CD4, he faces Tea Partying Congressman Paul Gosar and state Senator Ron Gould in the August 28 Republican primary.
It's a point of pride with Gould that he was one of the sponsors of the gay-marriage ban, put to the voters as a referendum in 2008 and passed by a majority statewide.
Of the three counties that make up most of the newly formed CD4 (Yavapai, Mohave, and La Paz) it passed by 61, 66, and 66 percent, respectively — which shows how deeply conservative CD4 is.
"He's a man without a base right now," Gould told me recently. "He's appealed to right-wing conservatives with his border stance. But those same right-wing conservatives don't support gay marriage and gays in the military."
Gould also observed that Babeu took these stances only after his coming-out party in Florence, saying, "The real Paul Babeu is in conflict with the fake Paul Babeu."
Gould and Pinal County Supervisor Pete Rios, a Democrat, are about as far apart politically as Mitt Romney and California Governor Jerry Brown, but Rios and Gould agree on one thing: When you sign up for a career in politics, you lose claim to a private life.
Rios has called on Babeu to resign, citing the sheriff's "poor judgment" and the abuse-of-power allegations leveled against him by Orozco, who recently told CNN that he's in the United States on a 10-year, multiple-entry tourist visa.
Rios noted Babeu's handling of the investigation of former Pinal County Deputy Louie Puroll, whose claim of getting ambushed in the desert and wounded by Mexican drug smugglers was demolished by New Times writer Paul Rubin ("Pinalcchio," September 23, 2010).
Babeu backed Puroll's bogus tale, but when Puroll conveyed a not-so-subtle death threat to Rubin, supposedly from a pal of Puroll's, Babeu fired him after an internal investigation ("White Wash," November 25, 2010).
In a news release announcing Puroll's dismissal, Babeu noted that Puroll had "brought great discredit to himself and the men and women representing our sworn law enforcement profession."
Said Rios, "I would argue that this exact quote applies to Paul Babeu."
Beyond that, the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board's code of ethics — which officers such as sheriff's deputies swear to — states: "Whether on or off duty," an officer will do nothing to bring "discredit or embarrassment" to his or her department.
If Babeu were an ordinary deputy pulling the same stunts, he'd probably be placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
A Peoria police sergeant's recent post on his personal Facebook page of a crew of high school kids holding guns and a bullet-riddled T-shirt bearing the image of President Barack Obama was all it took to get him reassigned and investigated.
The sergeant later was demoted and suspended without pay for two weeks.
Also, Chandler cop Ronald Dible was fired in 2002 for running a porn website featuring explicit photos of his wife. Dible challenged his dismissal all the way to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and lost.
The court concluded that Dible had "the constitutional right to run his sex-oriented business" but no such right "to be a policeman for the city [of Chandler] at the same time."
Gould pegs Babeu as so "arrogant" that he believes the rules surrounding police work don't apply to him.
Babeu also displays shameless chutzpah as he plays the victim card.
The spin isn't working. Before the scandal, polls showed Babeu leading Gosar, with Gould coming in a not-too-distant third.
More recently, a survey reported by the Capitol Times' Yellow Sheet after New Times' revelatory story was published shows Babeu's support dropping significantly, with the sheriff five points behind Gosar and five points ahead of Gould.
Expect the trend to continue, as Gould and Gosar pummel him regularly and as further revelations are unearthed, such as recent allegations aired by Channel 15 of former students at Massachusetts' now-defunct DeSisto boarding school for troubled teens, where Babeu was headmaster from 1999-2001.
The most serious allegation in the broadcast report involves an inappropriate relationship Babeu allegedly had with a 17-year-old male student at the school. The sheriff immediately denied the allegations, and his lawyer produced a letter signed by the student in question also denying the allegation. The TV station reported that several witnesses back up the claim, including Babeu's sister, Lucy, who was interviewed on camera.
Babeu handpicked state Attorney General Tom Horne, a political ally whom Babeu endorsed for AG, to handle one of the investigations into the Orozco matter, which Horne handed off to his flunky, Arizona Solicitor General Dave Cole, a political appointee of the AG's.
The Public Integrity Task force — part of the state Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council, made up of Arizona county prosecutors and the AG — is handling the other at the behest of Pinal County Attorney Jim Wash.
In addition, local immigrant advocacy group Respect/Respeto has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to probe the abuse-of-power allegations made by Orozco and his attorney, Melissa Weiss-Riner — who referenced a verbal threat by DeRose in a September 30 letter to Babeu's attorney in which she denied his allegation that Orozco is in the country illegally.
Orozco and Weiss-Riner say DeRose and Babeu attempted to use the allegation as leverage to get Orozco to sign the non-disclosure agreement to keep Babeu's homosexuality hush-hush.
A September 4 text from Babeu to Orozco adds credence to Orozco and Weiss-Riner's threat allegations: "You can never have business after this and you will harm me and many others in the process, including yourself & your family."
In another text, Babeu told Orozco, "You have crossed the line. Better get an attorney. You brother will also be contacted."
Babeu unwisely mixed business with pleasure, using Orozco as a "volunteer" website administrator. When the relationship ended, Orozco posted links to negative stories, and in one instance to adam4adam.com, on a campaign web page.
On September 6, DeRose hit Orozco with a cease-and-desist letter threatening civil and criminal action against Orozco. The Mexican national promptly complied — but this didn't stop DeRose and Babeu from continuing their pursuit.
In an e-mail to Orozco sent on September 7, DeRose invited Orozco "to come to my office and settle these outstanding claims."
Yet the only thing left to discuss was the non-disclosure agreement aimed at keeping Orozco mum about Babeu's homosexuality. Orozco's lawyer advised DeRose in writing that her client wouldn't sign any such agreement with Babeu.
Out of fear of the powerful sheriff and his lawyer, Orozco moved to a new address. But Babeu discovered his whereabouts, sending him a Christmas card, even though he'd promised no more contact with his ex.
It was this fear that drove Orozco to contact New Times. Though he and his attorney say he's in the country legally, he may have had reason to believe he could be removed by immigration authorities.
According to immigration law, Orozco's renewable visa comes with restrictions: He was prohibited from setting up residence in the United States, he could not work or run a business here, and he had to go back to Mexico after six months.
Details of Orozco's immigration status are murky. Weiss-Riner didn't respond to my request to discuss Orozco's visa, which she had told Alonzo she had on file.
But according to Phoenix immigration lawyer Delia Salvatierra, Orozco's working, living, and running a website business here could subject him to removal.
Even if Orozco left the country every six months to renew his visa, Salvatierra said, this would be "a violation of the non-immigrant intent of a non-immigrant visa" because he would be residing in the United States instead of his home country.
This opens up Babeu to various possible violations of election, immigration, and employment law.
According to Orozco, Babeu promised to compensate him for his webmaster and social-media work. And DeRose has admitted there were small reimbursements to Orozco.
Moreover, Orozco, as a non-citizen and non-resident, cannot donate to a campaign, either with an in-kind contribution of his labor or in actual money. The sheriff has not reported any such in-kind contributions from his erstwhile boyfriend. Babeu did, however, report a $40 contribution from Orozco to his 2008 campaign.
If this constituted a contribution from an undocumented alien, Babeu violated the law. At the least, Orozco was someone of questionable status.
It's painfully ironic that Babeu, a supporter of harsh anti-immigration laws, would become entangled in this legal morass.
Julie Pace, an immigration attorney who advises companies on complying with Arizona's employer-sanctions law, said she doesn't know of any exception to the law's requirement that employers check an applicant's Social Security number through the federal government's E-Verify system.
"Any employer who hires anybody and pays [him] money, whether [he's] full time or part time, has to complete I-9 forms and is supposed to get registered for E-Verify according to the Legal Arizona Workers Act," Pace told me.
In DeRose's cease-and-desist letter, he threatens to sue Orozco for "breach of contract," though he has not responded to a request from Orozco's lawyer for the details of that contract.
Even if Babeu didn't violate the employer-sanctions law, he would have been in violation of Arizona's Senate Bill 1070, which calls for officers having "reasonable suspicion" of someone's illegal presence to examine that person's papers.
Portions of the law have been stymied in federal court, but Babeu has been a vocal supporter of 1070. He mercilessly has criticized the Obama administration for suing Arizona over the statute.
When asked whether he suspected Orozco is illegal, Pinal County's top cop essentially admitted to turning a blind eye to the situation.
"I never believed [Orozco] was less legal than I or you were," Babeu stated to reporters during his press conference.
Isabel Garcia, an immigration activist and head of the Pima County Legal Defender's Office, sneered at the notion that the anti-immigrant sheriff would be so incurious.
"I bet anyone with an accent like Jose's would have been presumed undocumented by him as the sheriff and as the political persona he created," she said.
"So, in his personal life," she scoffed, the sheriff wants the public to believe "he assumed his boyfriend is legal?"
Indeed, anyone who saw Orozco's CNN interview, in which he struggled to express himself in English, would doubt Babeu's claim, considering his nativist views.
"How dare he portray himself as a victim," Garcia exclaimed. "It's clear who's the cop and who's got the badge."
Babeu has accused Orozco of identity theft and of website hacking.
Orozco never tried to pass himself off as Babeu, though he did post unflattering messages on Twitter accounts and websites that Orozco had registered on the sheriff's behalf.
And Orozco didn't have to hack into Babeu's sites. Even Babeu admits that he had authorized Orozco to handle his campaign sites and social media. DeRose's cease-and-desist letter demanded that Orozco turn over all passwords, as well as control of Babeu's fundraising software, which he did.
Arizona State University Professor Robert Clinton, who teaches classes on cyber-law, explains that the onus is on employers to maintain copies of passwords and to block a fired employee's access.
"If he had been terminated or otherwise let go, or the relationship had ended," Clinton said of Orozco, "then it was the sheriff's obligation to get the passwords changed. Sounds like he didn't."
Based on my description of the details, Clinton doubted that Orozco could face criminal penalties under existing cyber-law.
"There are some criminal liabilities under computer-intrusion statutes," he said. "But for the most part, former employees, aren't going to be prosecuted."
Asked whether what Orozco did constituted hacking, Clinton replied, "I know [Babeu and his lawyer] want to make it sound that way — but no."
One thing is evident: The sheriff is the victimizer — not the victim — in this sordid affair.
And he has no one to blame but himself for the predicament he finds himself in. Whether, or not, he ever faces criminal liability for what he's done, he has dug his political grave deeper at every turn.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- Thanksgiving Weekend DUI Checkpoints Around Metro Phoenix
Fri., Nov. 27, 7:00pm
Fri., Nov. 27, 7:30pm
Sat., Nov. 28, 8:00pm
Sat., Nov. 28, 8:00pm
- Arizona Spends Nearly $367K to Honor Muslim Syrian Immigrant
- Arizona Is One of the Most Dangerous States — but At Least We Beat Out Mississippi