Calls for an investigation were mounting following New Times' web exclusive about allegations that Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and his attorney threatened the sheriff's ex-boyfriend with deportation after their relationship ended.
Finally, Babeu announced that the Gila County Attorney’s Office and the Gila County Sheriff’s Office would conduct an investigation both into abuse-of-power allegations he’s facing and “possible crimes” committed against him by his ex-boyfriend. Shortly after the first announcement, the sheriff released a second statement that Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne would conduct the investigation because Gila County officials didn’t have the resources to pursue such an inquiry. At the same time, the Pinal County Attorney’s Office announced the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council’s public-integrity task force would investigate Babeu. The investigations were announced after several days of Babeu's publicly insisting to media outlets that there would be no probe into his actions concerning ex-lover Jose Orozco. Babeu has claimed that Orozco hacked into his campaign website and social media accounts, and he also says Orozco stole his identity. Initially, the sheriff and his camp said the dispute was settled after all the passwords were turned over. Now, Babeu is painting himself as the victim. Immigrant-rights activists and Pinal County Board of Supervisors Chairman Pete Rios are among those who called for an investigation.
Under pressure, Babeu admitted in a weekend press conference that he is gay, that photos and text messages published along with New Times' article are authentic, that he plans to complete his term as sheriff, and that he intends to continue his campaign for Congress in the 4th Congressional District.
New Times cover story
Babeu denied that he or his attorney, Chris DeRose, threatened Babeu's ex-boyfriend with deportation and that he believes Orozco was in the country legally. Orozco and his lawyer, Melissa Weiss-Riner, have said repeatedly that the sheriff and DeRose made such threats in phone calls and in text messages.
Indeed, Orozco tells New Times in an interview just before publication of this article that he soon will release additional evidence of threats he received from Babeu's camp.
New Times had withheld Orozco's full name and blurred his face on a photo — because he said he feared reprisal from Babeu or his supporters. But since television stations have aired both – and Orozco has moved to another residence -- we are divulging his full name and showing his face.
Because the 4th District is overwhelmingly conservative, many have said Babeu — suddenly an openly gay sheriff — stands little chance against Congressman Paul Gosar and State Senator Ron Gould, whose platform focuses on family values.
Gosar is among those who called for an investigation, and Gould said Babeu demonstrated extremely poor judgment by posting explicit photos and information on gay websites, including adam4dam.com.
"Babeu has brought discredit to himself, his office, law enforcement, and Pinal County," Supervisor Rios tells New Times. "Pinal County is in turmoil, in a crisis; we need to bring closure to this."
Activist Lydia Guzman asked Deputy U.S. Assistant Attorney General Roy L. Austin to investigate "whether or not the sheriff abused his position of authority, as an elected official and as a law enforcement officer, to make these threats in exchange for the young man's silence" about their relationship.
Guzman runs Respect-Respeto, a nonprofit group that aids immigrants too afraid to report their abuses to police.
Roberto Reveles, founding president of Somos America/We Are America, a coalition of churches and other organizations that provide support to the immigrant community, asked for Babeu's immediate resignation.
Reveles said Babeu's alleged actions against Orozco deserve a "full investigation by the Arizona Attorney General's Office and the federal Department of Justice."
U.S. Senator John McCain, a political ally of Babeu's, said his "friend" deserved the benefit of doubt and that he is "sure there will be a thorough and complete investigation [of] any allegations of wrongdoing."
The two appeared in McCain's "complete the danged fence" political ad for his 2010 re-election bid.
Shirl Mora James, an immigration attorney from Nebraska and head of the National Tequila Party Movement, a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote organization, says it should be the DOJ investigating.
She accused Babeu of hypocrisy.
"He's an outspoken anti-immigrant individual, and he's sleeping with an immigrant? There is such an imbalance of power, I can understand why [Orozco] would be very afraid. The question is, was he threatened?" James tells New Times. "[Babeu's] sexuality has nothing to do with it."
Babeu and his supporters have attempted to spin the story to say the sheriff is under attack because he is gay, a fact he never made public until Orozco's allegations were published. Indeed, a huge irony is that Babeu and DeRose allegedly threatened Orozco with deportation and questioned his immigration status in an attempt to keep him quiet about the affair.
Babeu dismisses the sexually explicit photos he circulated — including to the gay hookup website adam4adam.com — as none of the public's business and part of his personal life.
However, the state Code of Ethics for police officers — outlined by the agency that certifies cops in Arizona — declares that "whether on- or off-duty, in uniform or not," law enforcement officials should conduct themselves in a "manner that will not bring discredit or embarrassment" to their agencies.
Babeu no doubt is familiar with the case of fellow ex-Chandler Officer Ronald Dible, who was fired for running a porn website with his wife. He filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against Chandler and its police department and lost. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his firing.
The parallel here is that Dible also claimed he could be a law enforcement officer and do whatever he pleased during personal time.
"It can be seriously asked whether a police officer can ever disassociate himself from his powerful public position sufficiently to make his speech (and other activities) entirely unrelated to that position in the eyes of the public and his superiors," the Ninth Circuit wrote.
At Babeu's coming-out press conference, he paraded supporters — including several uniformed subordinates at the PCSO — before TV cameras to vouch for his leadership abilities and good character. They all defended his right to be a gay sheriff in Arizona.
Babeu — whose 2008 campaign for Pinal County sheriff was centered on cleaning out corruption in the Sheriff's Office — and DeRose repeatedly said there was no plan to call for any investigation to clear the sheriff's name. DeRose has called Orozco's allegations "silliness," and Babeu has said they're "baseless."
But now, both Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne -- whom Babeu endorsed in 2010 during his bid for AG -- and a state public-integrity task force will dig deeper into these allegations.
Babeu has not explained the intimidation Orozco's attorney refers to in her letters demanding that Babeu's camp stop harassing her client. She says the harassment was aimed at getting Orozco to keep quiet about the relationship.
Weiss-Riner wrote to the sheriff's attorney on January 17 that Babeu's "continued harassment and intimidation have caused Mr. Orozco to live in fear."
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In an earlier letter, on September 30, Weiss-Riner wrote to DeRose that his "claim that Mr. Orozco does not have legal status in this country is simply not true. However, if your client . . . Mr. Babeu wishes to make these allegations, my client will prevail."
One of Babeu's own text messages to Orozco states: "You can never have business after this and you will harm me and many others in the process . . . including yourself and your family."
Babeu told reporters that he does not deny the veracity of the text messages and photos published by New Times — including this text.
Babeu lately has claimed to TV reporters that this message was meant only to convey to Orozco that his actions regarding the sheriff's websites would make it impossible for him to run a web-design business.