At least one candidate for the GOP primary nod in the First Congressional District is not going to let Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu skate on his sleazy record: retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Wendy Rogers.
In video obtained by New Times of a February candidates' forum held at a Tempe gathering of the Arizona Federation of Republican Women, Rogers calls out Babeu for his management of the infamous and now defunct DeSisto School for troubled teens in Massachusetts, where Babeu served as the headmaster and executive director from 1999 to 2001.
Rogers demands to know if the allegations that Babeu knew of abuses taking place at the school are true, abuses that, according to court documents, included strip-searches, improper restraints, forced labor, group showers, and a practice called "cornering," where students were isolated in a corner "for up to months at a time."
"I'm a mother," says Rogers. "That could have been my child at that school. I think we need to know, if we send someone to Congress, what the accountability and the integrity issues are here."
The feisty former pilot cites a 1999 Babeu family video broadcast by ABC 15 where Babeu is seen smiling and laughing as he discusses the very practices that were condemned by state authorities. She then wonders how Babeu could survive a Democratic onslaught if he's the GOP nominee in CD1, which is considered a toss-up district.
Rogers also makes a vague reference to near-naked images of Babeu still on the Internet from the 2012 scandal in which Babeu was accused of threatening to have his undocumented Mexican boyfriend deported.
The scandal forced the self-appointed border hawk to abandon his effort that year to be the GOP nominee in the Fourth Congressional District. Instead, Babeu had to punt, running for re-election for sheriff in Pinal County.
"How is someone electable [to Congress] when all these videos, the Democrats have?" asks Rogers. "And the images [of Babeu's half-naked selfies] on Google."
When Babeu takes the mic, he says something about how he will be asking one of his opponents a "nice" question, and receives applause from the audience.
He mentions that the DeSisto allegations came up in 2012 as "one of many attacks" on him, and he swears that he would "never allow any type of abuse," claiming to have arrested people for child abuse and neglect.
"There were investigations there," Babeu says of DeSisto. "Nobody was arrested. Nobody was charged or convicted of anything."
Babeu claims that DeSisto students had "criminal records" and "many had attacked their own parents," while calling it a "therapeutic school."
In fact, according to the state of Massachusetts, more than 30 percent of the students were classified as "special needs."
Wealthy parents paid exorbitant sums, in some cases as much as $65,000 per year, to have their troubled children kept in conditions that one critic compared to The Lord of the Flies.
As far as DeSisto's "therapy" goes, Babeu claims ignorance.
"I had nothing to do with that portion of the school," he declares.
Regarding the other allegations he faced in 2012, he calls them "smears" about "things in my life that I can't change."
However, posting near-naked images of himself on the pornographic gay pick-up site Adam4Adam.com was something Babeu had complete control over. Ditto his sending explicit texts and images of himself to others via his cell phone.
Furthermore, the ABC 15 video depicts Babeu as not only aware of the school's abusive practices, but reveling in them as necessary.
“They need to feel hopeless,” Babeu says in the ABC 15 video of DeSisto's students. “[They need to feel] depression and complete failure...They have to bottom out and then be able to work through it.”
At the forum, after Babeu asks his "nice" question about protecting gun rights of former Arizona Secretary of State and fellow Republican Ken Bennett, Rogers gets another crack at Babeu and accuses him of dodging the question.
When she gets some boos from the audience, Rogers admonishes her fellow Republican women for not taking the claims against Babeu seriously.
"You can all moan and boo," she says, adding, "You're all mothers and grandmothers. Then if this were your children, you'd want to know. This is very serious."
Babeu responds, in part, by calling the accusations old, saying that bringing them up now is "a little bit overdone," after which he receives applause.
Rogers, who first blasted Babeu in January as an "embarrassment to the Republican Party, the state of Arizona, and our nation," chalks up the reaction of some of the GOP women to their unfamiliarity with the allegations.
"One can almost understand why the women in the audience were troubled [by my comments]," she told New Times for this article, "since many had never heard the information about Babeu's checkered past."
She said she found "more disturbing" the reluctance of other Republicans candidates in the race to speak out.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"What are they afraid of?" she wondered. "As the head of a school where he was entrusted with the care of children, Babeu condoned child abuse, which is offensively wrong. But even more appalling, Babeu continues to lie about his role and has tried to cover it up ever since. The cover-up makes it all the worse."
To be fair, Tom O'Halleran, who is running as a Democrat for the seat being vacated by Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick as she looks to challenge Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain in the general election, has been equally critical of Babeu.
But Rogers' fellow Republicans so far remain mum.
The Air Force vet is one of seven candidates vying the nomination in CD1, where Babeu, despite his grotesque baggage, remains the name to beat.