With Valentine’s Day just passed, it's worth noting that Pinal County's most eligible bachelor, Sheriff Paul Babeu, finally may have found love in a young man 25 years his junior.
Babeu’s spokesman, Barrett Marson (who also flacks for the legalize pot initiative Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol), confirmed to New Times that the 47-year-old sheriff and Israel Chabarria, 22, live together and are an item, though Marson said the two aren't married.
The October-May relationship began in 2012, according to sources, not long after the debacle of Babeu’s first congressional run, laid low by the accusation of Babeu’s former lover and campaign webmaster, Jose Orozco, that Babeu had threatened Orozco with deportation (on his own and through his attorney) if Orozco spilled the beans on Babeu's homosexuality.
The sheriff was not “out” at the time.
A subsequent investigation by the office of then-Attorney General Tom Horne, Babeu’s political ally, found that no laws had been broken by the sheriff. Still, the scandal, first reported by this paper, effectively kneecapped the anti-immigrant firebrand’s run in the GOP primary for Arizona’s Fourth Congressional District. His congressional aspirations dashed, he ran for re-election as sheriff instead and won.
Babeu’s sexual orientation was one of the worst-kept secrets in Arizona politics. Yet, according to the Attorney General's report, when Orozco began posting information about Babeu's sexuality on various websites, Babeu “pleaded” with him to stop.
Also, Babeu’s attorney at the time admitted to investigators that he wanted Orozco to sign a nondisclosure agreement, to keep Babeu’s orientation hush-hush. Babeu claimed he did not know Orozco’s immigration status and denied having threatened him. It is believed that Orozco may have overstayed a tourist visa.
Regardless, Babeu’s personal choices seemed risky, even self-destructive, for a rising star in the Republican Party and a darling of Fox News.
And those choices now haunt him again as he attempts another run for Congress. This time, in Arizona’s toss-up First Congressional District.
After all, many voters still remember Babeu’s profile on the X-rated gay pickup site Adam4Adam.com, where he posted a half-nude photo of himself, identifiable by Babeu’s unique tribal tattoos.
There, on a page surrounded by ads for explicit gay porn, Babeu identified himself only as “studboi1,” touting a “buzzed body”and a penis that is “7”cut.” All the same, Babeu claimed in the profile to want “friendship, 1-on-1 sex,” and a “relationship.”
In 2012, Orozco told New Times that he advised Babeu to take down the profile, as it could be embarrassing for the sheriff. But when the profile remained up, a jealous Orozco devised a sting by posting a fake profile under the name “Matt” on the same site and contacting Babeu through it.
The two engaged in raunchy sex chat, which Orozco shared with New Times, along with photos Babeu had sent the fictional, prospective sex partner. One photo was a selfie of a smiling Babeu in nothing but his briefs, and another was of Babeu from the waist down, an erection showing.
"I will suck you off as much as needed,” Babeu said in one such text.
Babeu and “Matt” planned to meet at San Tan Flat restaurant in Queen Creek for a hookup, with Babeu's telling his anonymous soon-to-be date to bring an overnight bag, according to the texts.
When Orozco appeared at the eatery instead of “Matt,” Babeu said he had been worried that his correspondent was a reporter trying to trap him, according to Orozco. The two ate dinner and then went back to Babeu’s place, Orozco said.
But as this incident might suggest, the relationship between Babeu, 43 at the time, and Orozco, then 34, was not to be.
Orozco thought they were exclusive. But friends of both men told AG's investigators that they were “fuck buddies” or “friends with benefits.”
His personal life in tatters, his congressional run abandoned, Babeu nonetheless still was incredibly popular in Pinal County, where he overwhelmingly won re-election as sheriff in 2012.
Sources say Babeu met Israel Chabarria, then 19, at the 2012 victory party for the sheriff and Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles, among others.
Chabarria was there with his mother and asked to be introduced to the sheriff, according to these sources. The young man recently had attended San Tan Foothills High School, where he was on the varsity cheerleading team and had expressed interest in modeling and dance.
Babeu’s sister Veronica “Roni” Keating, who runs a housecleaning business in Pinal County, remembers meeting Chabarria for the first time in 2012, when Babeu called her and asked if she could give a friend a ride.
She described the encounter during a recent interview for this column.
Keating told her brother she would, and Babeu explained where she could find Chabarria, who was walking on a road nearby where Chabarria’s mom lived. The mother and son had been in a fight, Babeu explained.
Keating said she cleaned Babeu’s home as part of her business and had a key to his residence. Babeu asked her to take Chabarria to his house.
“So I'm driving along, and I see this kid,” Keating said of Chabarria. “He was young. I have boys the same age.”
She and Chabarria later became friends, she said, and Chabarria once teased her about them meeting for the first time, telling her that when she dropped him off at Babeu’s residence, he already was living there.
“They've been living together now for four years,” said Keating, who is two years older than Babeu.
Asked if she thinks her brother prefers Latinos, she said: “It doesn't matter, as long as they're young.”
Keating and Babeu grew up in North Adams, Massachusetts, part of a brood of 11 children.
She said she didn't know Babeu was gay until he ran for mayor of North Adams and another brother, Shaun Babeu, now a Justice of the Peace in Pinal County, told her.
Of course, there had been signs, she said, like Babeu's borrowing her makeup and hairspray and his occasionally flamboyant way of dressing. But he always had female admirers growing up so it wasn’t obvious, she said.
By the time Babeu was a cop in Chandler, he was less guarded about his orientation, Keating said, remembering a night from about 10 years ago when Babeu and a boyfriend of his took her to a gay bar in Scottsdale for her birthday.
Keating described herself as loving her family but said she was ostracized when other members of the Babeu clan discovered she still spoke with sister Lucy Babeu, who lives in Mesa and has been vocal in her criticism of Paul.
In response to Lucy's accusations, the sheriff has claimed Lucy is mentally ill.
Keating insisted that this is just a way for Babeu and his supporters to discount Lucy’s allegations, particularly Lucy's contention that Babeu had an improper relationship with a male student at the DeSisto School for troubled children, where Babeu was headmaster for a time.
“They're just afraid of Lucy because she knows too much,” Keating maintained. “That's why they say she's crazy.”
Lucy Babeu admits that she suffers from seizures, which she claims result from physical abuse she endured in her parents' household. This condition, she states, causes her to sometimes talk quickly and jump from one topic to another.
As for the alleged DeSisto relationship, students once there have said it was between Babeu and 17-year-old student Joshua Geyer. According to Lucy, the relationship was sexual.
“I remember being at Paul’s house and seeing Joshua coming down the stairs in his tighty-whities,” she told New Times, recounting what she’s told other media in the past.
She said she admonished Paul because of Joshua’s age and because Paul had been headmaster at DeSisto. At the time, Babeu recently had left DeSisto, she said.
“I told him, 'You can’t do that, Paul,” she remembered. “He said, 'But I love him, Lucy.'”
Babeu has denied any impropriety, as has Geyer in letters released in 2012 by the Rose Law Firm on Babeu’s behalf to ABC 15’s Dave Biscobing, who first broke the story of Babeu and the DeSisto School.
The letters, purportedly signed by Geyer, are not notarized and state, in part: "I have never at any time lived or engaged in any inappropriate sexual relationship with Paul Babeu.”
Lucy Babeu said she and her brother were close for many years and that she supported him in his two tries for North Adams mayor, doing tribute videos of the campaigns and offering a heartfelt dedication to her brother at the end of one video.
No matter how Paul and other members of the Babeu family see her, Lucy remains the family's unofficial historian, with hundreds of videotapes and DVDs of family events that she shot or recorded.
One DVD is full of recorded newscasts of Babeu as he stood on the steps of a Massachusetts courthouse denouncing the Catholic priest who allegedly abused him from the ages of 13 to 15.
In the videos, after wiping away a tear, Babeu turns to his sister Lucy for a hug and moral support.
Another videotape from her collection has bolstered Lucy Babeu’s reputation.
Given to ABC 15, it was shot by her and shows a 1999 family gathering during which Babeu talks openly of practices that eventually caused DeSisto to be shut down in 2004 because it failed to meet Massachusetts' standards for such facilities.
The practices included children getting forced to sit indefinitely in corners, being forced to perform manual labor on the school’s farm, and getting strip-searched.
“They need to feel hopeless,” Babeu says in the video of the students. “[They need to feel] depression and complete failure . . . They have to bottom out and then be able to work through it.”
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Regarding Babeu's current relationship with Israel Chabarria, the two men own property together in Cochise County, according to records there.
Photos of the pair at various events have surfaced: at a Cher concert in the Valley, at a candidates' forum in Pinal County, and in Washington, D.C., where Babeu stood with other sheriffs at a press conference denouncing the Obama administration’s “amnesty” for illegal aliens.
Also, photos appeared of Babeu and Chabarria holding hands and dancing together at the wedding of Babeu's brother Joe and Paul Garcia on Garcia's Facebook page.
In them, the sheriff and his latest young boyfriend seemed quite the happy couple.