A Fitting Finish to Paul Babeu's No Good, Very Bad Year

To cop a line from the late, great Otis Redding, soon-to-be-ex-Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu is Arizona politics' new "Mr. Pitiful."

Having been being clobbered in November by Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat Tom O'Halleran in Arizona's First Congressional District race, come midnight on December 31, the ethically challenged lawman and onetime Fox News darling will no longer be able to wear his spiffy sheriff's uniform.

Democrats spent millions to run a campaign ad featuring a 1999 home video of Babeu speaking approvingly of abuse meted out to troubled teens at Massachusetts' infamous and now-shuttered DeSisto School, which can't help Babeu's job prospects any. With his allies losing races for county attorney and sheriff, his power base in Pinal County is kaput, too.

If that weren't bad enough, the nativist poster boy has put his four-bedroom San Tan Valley house up for sale. I called the realtor handling the property several times over the past week, introducing myself as a prospective buyer.

On two occasions, the realtor identified the property, which has been listed online for about a month now, as a "short sale" — i.e., a transaction where the sale price is lower than the amount owed on the home — and said there were three bids on it. On another occasion, she said the transaction was "at the bank." The last time I called, I identified myself as a reporter and asked about the short sale. The realtor then declined all comment about the transaction.

Records concerning the ownership of the property have been sealed pursuant to a court order, according to Pinal County spokesman Joe Pyritz. But Babeu has listed the San Tan Valley address as his residence in some public documents. When I sought to question the sheriff about the transaction, his spokeswoman Paula Pollock responded via email.

"The Sheriff has lived in Casa Grande for nearly two years," Pollock wrote. "This house [in San Tan Valley] was converted to a rental property that he's decided to sell, since he's remaining in Casa Grande."

Neither Babeu nor Pollock responded to follow-up questions about whether the transaction will be a short sale, nor whether Babeu is renting in Casa Grande or has plans for the immediate future.

Short sales became common for homeowners in the wake of the housing-market collapse of 2007 and 2008, when many investors were caught underwater on their properties. According to Phoenix real estate attorney Peter Westby, who spoke to New Times about short sales in general, the transactions allowed owners to get out of an unwieldy investment while sparing lenders the expenses associated with foreclosure.

Westby added that a short sale isn't as harmful to a seller's credit rating as a foreclosure, which could affect a buyer's ability to get a new home loan in the future.

"The consequences of a [short sale] hurt your credit a little bit," Westby said. "But it is not a big negative like foreclosure is."

Westby noted that there could be reasons for a short sale other than avoiding foreclosure, such as having to sell because the owner is being transferred to another location by an employer, or because the owner loses his or her job and has to move.
Which brings us to Babeu's prospects for future employment. Sources close to President-elect Donald Trump's transition team tell me that Babeu's name has not been mentioned for any post they're aware of. Considering Babeu's signature issue — illegal immigration — and his ties to both the U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a post of some sort with one of these departments might be up his alley.

Veteran Republican political consultant Nathan Sproul of Tempe's Lincoln Strategy Group thinks Babeu could get a job with the Trump administration. After all, Babeu vigorously backed Trump for president, despite a kerfuffle in early October when his then-spokesman Barrett Marson took the spear for a Babeu campaign Tweet blasting Trump's comments in the infamous Billy Bush video as "reprehensible" and promising to write in Mike Pence's name for president.

But would Trump offer Babeu a position that the sheriff wants?

"There are certainly a lot of jobs available for an incoming first-term president's administration," Sproul said. "So the question is not whether there would be a job. The question is whether the job would be senior enough in rank for Babeu to be happy with."

As far as any future political career in Arizona, Sproul says Babeu has some work to do, considering how much money the Democrats poured into negative ads against him during this election cycle. For the time being, if he's staying in Sand Land, Sproul's advice to the sheriff is stick to his home base of Pinal County, where he still enjoys some support among the electorate. (Such support aside, I can tell you that many in Pinal County government haven't stopped doing cartwheels since Babeu's fall.)

"On the federal and statewide level, there needs to be a little bit of a rehabilitation process, between this last campaign and a future campaign," Sproul explained. "He's a rare, unique political talent. It's really unfortunate that we're having this conversation about him."

Sproul's being kind here. More than rehabilitation, Babeu needs reconstructive surgery to make him palatable in a state or congressional general election. Babeu is charismatic, I'll give him that much. And his ego may not allow him to forgo another run for office. But the soon-to-be-former sheriff has a litany of scandals trailing behind him, from his attempt to deport his Mexican lover years back to the racy pics he posted on a gay pickup website to a reported FBI probe of RICO spending on behalf of his office to the killer: the creepy DeSisto School, where Babeu once was headmaster and executive director.

Former DeSisto students have come forward to accuse Babeu of having known about and approved of the bizarre, cultlike discipline the school employed. And a Democratic Congresswoman, who as an attorney general investigated allegations against the school, has accused Babeu of stonewalling the state of Massachusetts on the probe.

But it was a damaging 1999 home video of Babeu mocking DeSisto students as he recounted various punishments they endured that struck a mortal blow this year and might have a lasting effect. Recorded by Babeu's fiercest critic, his estranged sister Lucy, the videotape puts the lie to all of Babeu's denials about not being cognizant of the way teens were treated at DeSisto.

By unearthing that gem and handing it over to ABC 15 for broadcast, Lucy ensured her brother's doom. Lucy, along with another Babeu sister, Veronica Keating, endorsed Babeu rival Wendy Rogers over their brother in this year's GOP primary in Arizona's First Congressional District.

Suffice it to say Lucy Babeu knows her brother like the back of her hand, and when I spoke to her recently, she speculated that the sheriff might take a break from Arizona, and maybe take a job with a wealthy Babeu brother in Maine. (Babeu is one of a brood of 11 children.)

"It's a place for him to run to," she predicts. "He's not going to be around here for a little bit."

Babeu has made a few appearances on Fox News programs since the election to deride Obama's border policies and praise Trump's campaign promises of an immigration crackdown. In each, he wears his sheriff's uniform. But Babeu's recent devastating loss is never mentioned, nor is the fact that he soon will no longer sport a badge.

Some have mentioned the possibility that Babeu could score a gig with Fox News or with some anti-illegal-immigrant advocacy group. Considering the spleen and slitheriness necessary  for such positions, either seems within Babeu's reach. Sadly, I suspect we have not seen the last of this 21st-century Mack the Knife.

Meanwhile Babeu's last toehold in the county is his brother Shaun Babeu, whom he helped get elected as a justice of the peace for Apache Junction in 2010. Now in his second term, Shaun Babeu will be up for re-election in 2018.

Keating says her JP sibling had been living at the house Babeu is selling until recently, perhaps renting from the sheriff. The judge lists that address as his own on an affidavit filed with a deed to a home the judge purchased in late November.

Both Keating and Lucy Babeu describe the brothers as close, and in the 1999 home video, the future justice can be seen seated next to his brother the future sheriff as the latter discusses DeSisto. ABC 15 and other outlets have reported that Shaun Babeu also worked at the school in some capacity.

I left messages both at Justice Babeu's office and on a personal line, asking to speak with him for this story. I also emailed a request to him. So far, I have received no response.
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons