Larry Dever, sheriff of Cochise County since 1997, dialed Paul Babeu's cell phone on the morning of February 18.
Overnight, he'd read a story going viral on the New Times website. It was about the Pinal County sheriff, a political ally of Dever's and a Republican candidate for a U.S. Congressional seat in newly formed District 4.
Babeu allegedly had threatened his Mexican-born ex-lover with "deportation" if word of their gay union went public (see "Babeu Revealed" on our website). The news and the photographs of the libidinous Babeu, in various states of undress, stunned the usually unflappable Dever.
The two sheriffs had been connected politically since shortly after Babeu took office in early 2009.
They had risen to the forefront of the anti-illegal-immigration movement as it gained traction nationally, due in part to the March 2010 murder of beloved fourth-generation Cochise County rancher Rob Krentz. The 58-year-old Krentz was shot to death by a still-unidentified person, purportedly an undocumented alien, on his family ranch about 10 miles from the Mexico border east of Douglas.
The murder happened a day after Krentz's brother, Phil, reported pot-smuggling activity on the 35,000-acre ranch that led to the arrests of eight Mexican nationals.
Krentz's death (see "Badlands" and "Cowboy Down," June 3 and June 10, 2010) was a flashpoint for the already hot-button issue of what to do about the millions of illegal aliens in this country. The murder of a good friend sickened, frustrated, and angered Sheriff Dever, but it didn't really open his eyes to the conundrum surrounding undocumented migrants.
Berating federal authorities for their ongoing failures to get a firm handle on illegal-immigration enforcement has been one of Dever's main missions since he first was elected sheriff more than 15 years ago.
Paul Babeu convinced the veteran sheriff that he was of like mind on the issue after taking office in Pinal County in January 2009, and Dever soon gave him a public stamp of approval.
Babeu was a shooting star. He quickly became a darling of Fox News, a ubiquitous talking head on immigration and border issues. Pinal County is in central Arizona, about 85 miles from the U.S.-Mexico line, but it has faced serious drug- and human-trafficking issues.
The pair became vocal supporters of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, the strict and highly controversial anti-illegal-immigrant law that legislators were considering at the time of the Krentz murder and that Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a few months later.
The U.S. Justice Department filed a federal lawsuit hoping to block SB 1070, saying that it would lead to racial profiling by police. A federal judge in Phoenix agreed and issued a temporary restraining order in July 2010 against key provisions of the law — a ruling the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld last April.
The SB 1070 case headed to the U.S. Supreme Court after the State of Arizona appealed its loss, and the high court was scheduled to hear oral arguments as this story went to press.
Larry Dever was slated to attend that April 25 hearing in Washington, D.C.
Supported by private funding last year from a shadowy right-wing group out of Iowa, Dever — with the permission of his Board of Supervisors — hired a Scottsdale law firm to file a "friend of the court" legal brief explaining his point of view on SB 1070, essentially that it's good for law enforcement.
(Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, Tucson police chief Roberto Villasenor, and retired Phoenix police chief Jack Harris were among many other law enforcement officials who recently submitted their own briefs opposing the law. Dupnik earlier called it an "abomination" and "national embarrassment," and vowed not to implement it.)
Babeu's successful courtship of Dever provided him with an immediate level of credibility because Cochise County's sheriff is widely respected, even in circles that consider his position on illegal immigration and SB 1070 dangerously myopic and intractable.
Last year, Babeu gave Dever a large, exquisitely framed photograph of the two of them alongside U.S. Senator John McCain at a press conference.
Babeu scribbled a few thoughts about Dever on the photo with a silver marker: "You're a great friend and excellent sheriff. Thanks for all your mentoring."
Dever never did find a place for it in his Bisbee office, instead sticking it against a wall, facing inward.
"Symbolic in hindsight, huh?" he said a few weeks ago, allowing himself a wry smile. "Paul is someone I am not comfortable with at this point."
But on that Saturday morning in February, as Babeu was about to face the media to try to keep the scandal from spinning out of control, Larry Dever reached out with his morning phone call.
Dever says he wasn't sure what he was going to say, but he just couldn't fathom why a popular lawman and aspiring congressman would be so dumb as to post provocative photos and reveal intimate details of his sex life — on gay websites, no less.