Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu — who became the face of Arizona border security nationally after he started stridently opposing illegal immigration — threatened his Mexican ex-lover with deportation when the man refused to promise never to disclose their years-long relationship, the former boyfriend and his lawyer tell New Times.
The latest of the alleged threats were made through Babeu's personal attorney, who's also running the sheriff's campaign for Congress in District 4, the ex-lover says.
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He says lawyer Chris DeRose demanded he sign an agreement that he would never breathe a word about the affair. But Jose Orozco refused.
The 34-year-old from central Mexico charges that the sheriff's lawyer warned against mentioning the affair with Babeu. DeRose said gossip about Babeu would focus attention on Orozco, attention that could result in his deportation, Orozco says.
Melissa Weiss-Riner, Orozco's attorney, confirms her client's account.
She says she spoke directly to the sheriff's lawyer, DeRose, about the Babeu camp's threats that Orozco could be deported if he "revealed the relationship." She says DeRose falsely claimed that Orozco's visa had expired.
"Jose came to our firm because he felt he was being intimidated, and he was in fear for his life," Weiss-Riner says. "He wanted his legal rights protected."
(After this story was published online February 17, Babeu and DeRose denied Orozco and his lawyer's threat-of-deportation allegations, and — under pressure — the sheriff came out as a gay man and admitted that he'd had an affair with Orozco. The sheriff didn't dispute the authenticity of any text messages or photos appearing with this article.)
Informed of the situation, Nancy-Jo Merritt, a longtime Phoenix immigration attorney, says a threat of deportation would be indicative of an "atmosphere that's been created politically in this state, so that if you get angry at someone who is Hispanic, you immediately jump down to the level of threatening to deport him.
"If what [Babeu's attorney] says is correct [about Orozco's being illegal], either the sheriff had a long relationship with someone he knew was undocumented, while all the time being Mr. Bluster about the border and using it for political gain," or he threatened to deport someone he just broke up with, Merritt says.
"That's just the worst kind of hypocrisy."
She adds that federal immigration-enforcement agents have better things to do than "take care of Babeu's boyfriends."
Antonio Bustamante, a criminal defense attorney and immigration activist, tells New Times that if the allegations against Babeu are true, "To use a position of authority . . . and make legal threats opens a Pandora's box of ethics issues for any law enforcement person or any elected person. In this case, he's both."
Orozco says he met Babeu in October 2006 on gay.com, a dating website. What started with an online invitation from Babeu for the two to get together, he says, turned into not only a personal relationship but a professional one.
Orozco says he created and maintained Babeu's campaign websites, his Facebook page, and his Twitter account. Babeu didn't pay him for his online services, he claims.
Orozco says Babeu told him that he loved him and was with him exclusively. But Orozco suspected Babeu was lying. The relationship soured, and Orozco believes that Babeu sent DeRose after him. He says DeRose demanded the passwords to Babeu's websites and social-media accounts. Orozco says he complied but that Babeu and his attorney also wanted Orozco to sign a document that would bind him legally to keep silent about the relationship.
Orozco admits that he lashed out on news websites featuring stories about Babeu. He says he commented anonymously that the sheriff was not who people thought he was. He says he once wrote a comment on Chino Valley eNews (on which Babeu had an account), where gay men arrange sexual liaisons.
Orozco shared text messages between him and Babeu with New Times. A September 4, 2011, text from the sheriff reads: "You can never have business after this and you will harm me and many others in the process . . . including yourself & your family."
A couple of minutes later, Babeu followed with: "And you say you have loved me? Papi . . . this is no good."
Orozco responded: "Good threats. Wont work. Im already hurt me . . . and you didn't care."
They exchanged more texts on September 6.
Orozco: "Dont threat me. Thats illegal. Im just speaking . . . true."
Babeu: "You have crossed the line. Better get an attorney. You brother will also be contacted."
The following day, on September 7, De-Rose sent an e-mail directly to Orozco ordering him to "cease and desist."
DeRose wrote: "If you are serious about an amicable resolution to this, it is critical that no further offensive actions against my client be taken in the meantime. This should go without saying."
Orozco says that's when he hired Weiss-Riner.
In addition to the text messages and e-mails, Orozco shared letters from Melissa Weiss-Riner to Chris DeRose and photographs of Babeu and of him and Babeu together. He and his lawyer sat for several extensive interviews with New Times. He says he reached out to New Times because he was tired of living in fear.
The text messages — many still saved on Orozco's cell phone — appear to be sent from Babeu's business cell phone. Babeu identifies himself on his voice mail and says he is the sheriff of Pinal County. (Babeu since has denied that he sent explicit texts on his PCSO phone.)
In a phone conversation with Weiss-Riner on September 12, Orozco's attorney says, DeRose launched a series of attempts to keep Orozco from posting comments and to get him to sign a non-disclosure statement about the relationship. She says DeRose brought up Orozco's supposedly expired visa, possible deportation, and threatened a defamation lawsuit. She says DeRose mentioned that Orozco's comments were "embarrassing" for Babeu.
Weiss-Riner responded to DeRose in a September 30 letter: "I'm sure I don't need to remind you that truth is an absolute defense to any of these claims. Therefore, even if my client's alleged comments regarding Mr. Babeu were 'embarrassing,' as you state, they were in fact truth."
Orozco says he contacted New Times because he's had to turn his life upside down to stay out of Babeu's reach. Since the two parted ways, he says, he's moved twice, is looking for a new job, and has spent his life savings to hire Weiss-Riner to defend against a series of claims by the sheriff.
As for the ones related to the unpaid website work, Orozco thought everything was settled after turning over the passwords. The ex-lovers left it that they would discontinue contact with each other, Weiss-Riner says. But several weeks later, after Orozco moved into an apartment with roommates — leaving no forwarding address — a Christmas card arrived in his new mailbox from Babeu.
"It was [Babeu's] way of letting me know that he knew where I was," Orozco says.
Shortly after the card appeared, Orozco says, he angrily posted more anonymous comments online about Babeu's sexuality.
DeRose again flew into action, Weiss-Riner says, e-mailing her that Orozco wasn't living up to his and Babeu's no-contact agreement.
She responded to DeRose in a January 17 letter: "My client requested that your client discontinue any and all contact with him. You advised me that Mr. Babeu would comply with that request. However, your client violated that promise and sent [Orozco] a Christmas card at his new address. Clearly, your client has no intention of leaving [Orozco] alone, but instead intends to continue to harass and threaten him."
She also wrote that Babeu's continued "harassment and intimidation have caused [Orozco] to live in fear. [Orozco] has done nothing wrong; he has a right to live in peace without worrying about himself, his family, and his friends."
Weiss-Riner told DeRose that if Babeu didn't leave her client alone, she would seek an injunction against the sheriff to prevent further harassment.
She says she had no more contact with DeRose after that.
Paul Babeu's slick presence and conservative views — particularly on border control — have garnered him national popularity among the Tea Party element of the Republican party. He's frequently appeared on national Fox News broadcasts as a border hawk.
Babeu's presence on the national stage reached a new high in May 2010, when he was featured in U.S. Senator John McCain's "complete the danged fence" TV ad. Babeu's inclusion was meant to bolster the senator's credibility on border security during a heated Republican primary race against former Congressman J.D. Hayworth.
In the ad, McCain and Babeu are shown walking along a slatted steel fence delineating the U.S.-Mexico border. The longtime senator asks the first-term sheriff whether the McCain plan is the "right plan" for the border. Babeu says McCain's plan is "perfect." Then, he gives his political nod to McCain: "Senator, you're one of us."
When Babeu was elected sheriff in January 2009, he made sweeping changes in the Pinal County department, replacing its command staff, and according to the county's website, "implemented high employee standards."
In January 2011, Babeu fired Pinal County Deputy Louie Puroll, who claimed he was ambushed in the desert by runners employed by a Mexican drug cartel (“Pinalcchio” and ”White Wash,” September 23 and November 25, 2010), saying the deputy violated several departmental rules.
Among them was that Puroll had "been abusive in attitude, language, behavior, or conduct" and that he "engaged in conduct, on- or off-duty, that is of such nature that it would tend to bring discredit to the county."
During the previous year, Orozco says, Babeu e-mailed explicit photographs of himself to an anonymous man he met on the gay adam4adam.com website.
Orozco knows this because he posed as this man after his suspicions resurfaced that Babeu was cheating on him.
He shared with New Times photographs that he says Babeu e-mailed to the anonymous love interest. In the photographs, the sheriff revealed himself shirtless, in his underwear, and naked from the waist down.
Attorney Antonio Bustamante said Babeu's alleged actions demonstrated bad judgment.
"To behave in a way that can threaten your own political career, it means that this person is a risk-taker," Bustamante says. The public "needs to know how far [politicians] are willing to go in taking risks."
Babeu's alleged profile — which since has been blocked — listed him as a "good guy looking for another." He called himself "studboi1," described himself as "str8 acting, hard working and loyal," and said he was openly gay, looking for friendship and "1-on-1" sex.
While still in what he thought was a monogamous relationship with Babeu, Orozco says, he had stumbled upon the sheriff's page on adam4adam, which is peppered with pornographic images of men having intercourse. He says he confronted Babeu and that the sheriff told him it was an old profile.
"I told him to delete it because he was the sheriff, and it didn't look right," Orozco tells New Times. "I told him that if you don't want [to be with] me, I'll stop helping you with your websites, and you move on with your life, and I'll move on with mine."
Babeu assured him that he would delete the profile, Orozco says.
When Orozco checked again, he says the account still was there — so he created his own profile under an assumed name.
He says Babeu then sent pictures to Orozco, thinking he was a guy named "Matt." In one photo, Babeu poses grinning in a pair of gray underwear in front of a mirror. In another photo, he poses naked with an erection. His face isn't visible, but the bottom edge of one of Babeu's unmistakable arm tattoos can be seen.
In one of more than 100 explicit text messages Orozco provided between Babeu and "Matt," Babeu wrote: "I'm in law enforcement . . . sheriff. Didn't tell you that earlier stud . . . that's why I must be discrete." This exchange occurred while Babeu was attending police-training classes in Denver in June 2010, and he also offered Matt help in becoming a cop.
Like the aforementioned text messages, these apparently came from Babeu's current cell-phone number.
In one exchange Orozco shared, Babeu texted: "I will suck you off as much as needed."
After another exchange, Orozco (as Matt) asked if Babeu was masturbating, and Babeu wrote: "I'm just leaving mtg and headed home . . . still in uniform."
Babeu added: "Dude, I can't send naked pics over e-mail . . . just can't for my job . . . you can have me in person and what ever else you want."
The following morning, Orozco says, the sheriff sent explicit pictures.
At that time, Orozco says, Babeu bragged in a text that he was the sheriff who had appeared in the aforementioned TV ad on border security with McCain.
The two planned to meet at San Tan Flat, a steak house in Queen Creek, in mid-June 2010, and Babeu texted Matt to bring an overnight bag.
Babeu was standing in the restaurant's parking lot when he drove up, Orozco says. For about two minutes, Orozco says, Babeu said nothing.
"He [finally] said he couldn't believe [Matt was really me]," Orozco says. Babeu had worried that "maybe it was a reporter trying to catch him," Orozco recalls.
The two wound up having dinner and going back to Babeu's place, Orozco says.
Orozco says he and Babeu first met in October 2006, after he got a message on his account from the then-Chandler police officer. That night, the two agreed to meet in downtown Chandler.
"We were supposed to go to a bar, but we decided not to go," Orozco says. "We went to a hotel in downtown Chandler instead."
The two met several times for dinner and movies from November 2006 to January 2007, and they usually ended up going back to a hotel, according to Orozco. With the exception of a couple of phone calls, Orozco says, they lost touch until September 2007.
"We ran into each other at a bar, but he was with someone else," Orozco says. "I was surprised. I didn't expect to see him. We started talking again, texting a few times. He was telling me he was going to run for sheriff."
The conversations turned to Orozco's potentially helping with Babeu's political websites, which he soon did. Babeu was elected sheriff in November 2008.
Orozco's suspicions that Babeu was cheating heightened when the newly elected sheriff asked him to make changes to a campaign website to prevent e-mails sent there from going to his political staff.
His suspicions were confirmed, he says, when he discovered that an enraged spurned lover of the sheriff's was sending e-mails through the site.
A native of North Adams, Massachusetts, Paul Babeu's first foray into politics was his election to the North Adams City Council at just 18 years old. He later served a term as a county commissioner in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.
In 1992, Babeu lost a state senate bid in Massachusetts, and he made two failed runs for North Adams mayor in 1997 and 2001. He was headmaster of the DeSisto School in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a controversial boarding school for troubled teens, from 1999 to 2001.
Babeu arrived in Arizona in 2002 and worked as a Chandler cop until he ran for Pinal County Sheriff in 2008 against then-Sheriff Chris Vasquez on an anti-corruption platform.
When Babeu's deputy, Louie Puroll, claimed in April 2010 that he was ambushed in the desert by Mexican drug runners, it fueled anti-immigration sentiment in Arizona and nationally.
Babeu became a regular on Fox News and other conservative national broadcasts, touting the Puroll story and bashing President Obama for failing to secure the border and for suing Arizona over state Senate Bill 1070, the stalled law that calls for local police officers to enforce federal immigration law.
He became the go-to politician for the likes of Fox News on Arizona border security, even managing to outshine Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Indeed, he became known in some circles as the "new Arpaio."
His chest-pounding over border violence always had included a prediction that his deputies would have a violent showdown in the desert with Mexican drug runners, and Puroll's claim was manna from Heaven for the sheriff.
Even after it was proved that Puroll had engaged in no such skirmish, Babeu stood behind him. It wasn't until Puroll told a New Times reporter that he had met with a smuggler who threatened to kill the writer — and Puroll hadn't reported it to superiors — that the deputy was fired.
Undaunted by the Puroll scandal, Babeu has continued to pursue funding to prepare for such showdowns.
Openly gay Tucson state Representative Matt Heinz was one of two Democratic lawmakers who broke ranks with the party in March 2011 and voted to give Babeu $5 million to combat border violence. Other lawmakers opposed the measure, in part, because Babeu's county is at least 70 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. The measure finally was pared down to $1.7 million and passed by the Legislature.
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About a week after Heinz’s nod to Babeu, the sheriff spent the night at Heinz’s home, text messages that Orozco shared with New Times show.
“I’m at Mat Heinz and his boyfriend for dinner & ice cream...we are going out to bar and...to their house. [Am] staying over,” Babeu texted to Orozco at 1:04 a.m. last April 2.
On October 23, Babeu announced that he was considering a run to represent Arizona's newly formed 4th Congressional District, which includes parts of La Paz, Yavapai, Mohave, and Pinal counties. (Heinz announced recently that he's also running for Congress — to fill Gabrielle Giffords' vacated seat.)
Babeu has since confirmed that he's running, and polls of voters in the extremely conservative congressional district have shown him with a strong lead over Republican opponents Paul Gosar and Ron Gould — the latter of whom is campaigning on a strong family-values ticket.