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.
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."