The most riveting detail to come out of Paul Babeu's three-year tenure as head of a private Massachusetts boarding school for troubled teens was his close relationship with a 17-year-old student there.
Former students of the now-defunct school tell New Times that they often saw Babeu showering attention on fellow student Joshua Geyer.
"I'd see [Babeu] around campus all the time," says Melissa Burech, who attended DeSisto School during Babeu's tenure. "And I saw [Babeu and Josh] together more than they should've been. I saw [Babeu] take him off campus."
Babeu's sister, Lucy, alleges that Babeu was engaged in a sexual relationship with Geyer.
The Rose Law Firm — hired by Babeu after allegations arose that he and his lawyer, Chris DeRose, threatened his Mexican ex-lover with deportation if the man revealed their romantic relationship — did not return calls for comment on his relationship with the student. Babeu, however, denied wrongdoing through the firm.
Students say Babeu was a constant presence at DeSisto. The school occupied an expansive campus in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, where wayward teens, plagued with such problems as drug addiction, depression, anorexia, and mental illness, received what was deemed therapeutic treatment.
Babeu was headmaster and executive director at DeSisto from April 1999 to August 2001, and students say they often saw him milling around campus with the school's founder, the late Michael DeSisto.
Since the scandal involving his ex-lover broke in New Times on February 17, Babeu has minimized his role at the school, which was investigated for nearly two decades because of allegations that students endured systematic neglect and sexual and physical abuse there.
Babeu, elected Pinal County sheriff in 2008 after serving as a police officer in Chandler for several years, lately has claimed he did not interact with students and had no direct supervisory responsibility over staff at DeSisto.
But students who attended the school tell New Times that they saw Babeu in daily meetings where administrators discussed issues facing the school, including its disciplinary practices — which included students being forced to sit on metal folding chairs facing a corner for hours on end and students getting stripped naked and forced to wear nothing but bedsheets.
Babeu's camp has carefully parsed denials that he engaged in a sexual relationship with Joshua Geyer.
That is, Babeu, who would have been in his early 30s at the time, has not denied having a relationship with Geyer; he's only denied having an "inappropriate" relationship with his former student, according to his legal handlers.
One justification for this statement could be that Geyer was old enough to consent to sexual intercourse in Massachusetts.
The sheriff has eluded questions about how he could have developed a close relationship with a DeSisto student if his job did not involve dealing with students.
ABC 15, in a report on Babeu's years at the school, received signed, but undated, letters from the former student. The Rose Law Firm released the letters to the station.
"I have never at any time lived or engaged in any inappropriate sexual relationship with Paul Babeu," the first letter reads. "I have remained personal friends with Paul Babeu."
The second reads, "I never lived with or engaged in any sexual relationship with Paul Babeu while I was a student at DeSisto private school."
The station said neither letter was notarized and that there was no proof the letters were written by the student.
New Times was unable to reach Geyer for comment.
Lucy Babeu tells it differently, recalling a time when she saw Geyer at her brother's home in Massachusetts, and when she confronted her brother about the boy, Paul Babeu confessed that he was in love with Geyer.
Melissa Burech and other students who knew Geyer, and attended DeSisto while Babeu was headmaster, recall signs of a close relationship between the two.
Burech, who followed her family to Arizona a few years ago and now lives in Deer Valley, says she had friends in common with Geyer, friends in whom he confided about his "inappropriate" relationship with Babeu.
"Because the school was so intense, so cult-like, you developed close bonds with people," she says. "I think Josh looked to [Babeu] for guidance, and I believe Paul twisted that, abused that power to get what he wanted."
Another student, who grew up in New York, also found herself at DeSisto while Babeu was in charge of the school.
The former student, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirms what others have said: Babeu and Geyer were "together a whole lot," and Geyer "got taken off campus for lunch a lot" by the future National Sheriff of the Year. She says word got back to students that the pair often went to the Panda House, a Chinese restaurant in the area.
"Everybody on campus knew about it," she says. "When Josh left the program, and so did Paul, it was a big thing about them dating. Everybody knew."