Paul Babeu's Suspicious Past as School's Headmaster

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Babeu denied that he or his camp did anything inappropriate then, too, portraying himself as a conservative politician under attack because he is gay. And he again played the victim card, claiming Orozco had hacked into his campaign website and his Twitter account and had stolen his identity — charges that seem unlikely given that the sheriff gave Orozco access to his websites and accounts.

Orozco and his lawyer, Melissa Weiss-Riner, say he turned over everything Babeu and DeRose requested but that they still pressured him to sign the non-disclosure document concerning the romance.

An interesting side note is that Babeu, in 2002, went public about getting sexually abused by a Catholic priest in Springfield, Massachusetts. He said he was outraged because the church took years to defrock the priest who had abused him, his older brother Francis, and other children.

It is similar outrage that moved DeSisto alumni to speak out against their former headmaster and the abusive treatment they received, partially under his reign.

The New York student, who attended DeSisto from 1998 to 2003, is surprised to hear that Babeu now describes himself as a career-long advocate for victims' rights.

"When did he become that guy? When did he become so involved in victims' rights? Why didn't he see problems in the [DeSisto] program, see that things needed to change?" she says. "He would hear about kids starving in the corner . . . You'd think he would know that was wrong."

Melissa Burech, sent to the school from West Virginia when she was 15 because of a history of depression, says, "Things got worse" during Babeu's reign.

"He signed up to be an administrator at this school, and he didn't do anything to help us or change what was happening there," she says.

When state officials finally got on campus and gained access to students, their files, and school staff, the school was ordered to immediately stop its most abusive practices — such as strip-searching students, barricading them in their bedrooms with mattresses (or with staff sleeping outside doors), and banishing them to remote areas of the campus.

Students, sent to what was known as the "farm," were not allowed to attend academic classes and were forced to perform manual labor for five to eight hours a day before they could eat or drink, Massachusetts child welfare authorities reported.

"We had to cut down trees or restore the buildings," Burech says. "It was a big joke that we attended the school of the janitorial arts."

The former student from New York recalls being forced to hold hands with several other girls for days at a time, no matter where they went, unless they were sleeping or eating meals that were limited to 15 minutes each.

"We had to go to the restrooms that way, take showers that way, get dressed — try to put on our underwear that way," she says. "We had to hold hands under the stalls and, even if we had a male staff member [supervising], we had to ask for permission to take our hands apart so we could do what we needed to do in the bathroom. It was humiliating."

She says they would rotate so that each girl had a chance to be at the end of the human chain and have the privilege of a free hand.

"We all had different problems, obviously; that's why we were in that school," she says. "But we weren't stupid. We knew this behavior was wrong, and we knew it wasn't helping. It was just a way of torturing us."

Burech now is attending school to become an occupational therapist.

"If I saw [Babeu] today, I would say 'thank you' because those horrible experiences taught me to be a fighter," she says. "No matter what, he is part of my past. But I'm speaking up now because I want to inform Arizona about his past so he doesn't become part of our future."

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo