Arizona Sheriff with Massachusetts Ties Denies Misconduct

By Shira Schoenberg
Boston Globe
February 19, 2012

Paul Babeu, an Arizona sheriff and congressional candidate with a history in Massachusetts politics, resigned as Mitt Romney's Arizona campaign cochairman after the Phoenix New Times reported that Babeu threatened to deport an illegal immigrant with whom he previously had a relationship.

Babeu acknowledged that he is gay but denied any misconduct. He said he would continue his Republican campaign for representative from Arizona's Fourth Congressional District.

The Phoenix New Times reported Friday that Babeu - a strong opponent of illegal immigration - threatened his Mexican former boyfriend with deportation after the man, referred to as Jose, refused to promise not to disclose their relationship.

Babeu, the first-term sheriff of Pinal County, responded at a press conference on Saturday that all of the allegations are "absolutely, completely false," except for the fact that he is gay.

"The campaign continues in full force," Chris DeRose, a spokesman for Babeu, said in an e-mail. "A series of lies in a tabloid isn't going to change anything."

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said, "Sheriff Babeu has stepped down from his volunteer position with the campaign so he can focus on the allegations against him. We support his decision."

Babeu had campaigned with Romney and was featured in robocalls in Iowa attacking Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Before Babeu moved to Arizona, he made his mark in Massachusetts, as a politician from North Adams. "He was very politically ambitious," said John Barrett, the former North Adams mayor who beat Babeu in two elections. Despite several defeats, Babeu remained politically active, Barrett said.

Babeu won a seat on the nine-person North Adams City Council in 1987, becoming, at age 18, the youngest city councilor in Massachusetts up to that time. He ran on a platform that included opposing a council pay raise.

Babeu said Saturday the accusations were an attempt to hurt his political career.

"This whole rumor, this whole of idea of who I am in my private life has been shopped around," Babeu told reporters. "This was a way . . . to malign and attack a sheriff who does stand for conservative principals, who does enforce the law."

Melissa Weiss-Riner, the lawyer for the man who made the accusations, released a statement Saturday saying the man retained her firm because he was contacted by Babeu's attorney and felt intimidated.

Weiss-Riner earlier told the New Times that Babeu's attorney and campaign consultant falsely told her client that his visa had expired. Babeu told reporters he believed the man was living in the country legally.

"Jose continues to live in fear, and is currently in the process of moving again," Weiss-Riner said in the statement. "Therefore, he is not available to speak with the media at this time."

Clark Billings, a Democrat who taught Babeu at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and also served on the North Adams council, said Babeu allied himself with four other councilors who called themselves "the gang of five" and opposed Barrett, a Democrat.

Billings, who supported Barrett, said of the anti-Barrett faction, "They really clogged things up for about a year on the council." Babeu lost his bid for reelection two years later. Barrett would go on to serve as mayor for 26 years.

But Babeu remained politically active, as student government president at the college. In 1992, he was elected a Berkshire County commissioner.

Four years later, Babeu ran for state Senate from North Adams and won the Republican nomination but lost in the general election.

In the mid-1990s, Babeu worked in a mid-level position in the state treasurer's office under Joe Malone. When Malone ran for governor in 1998, Babeu joined his campaign as a field organizer. Malone, a fiscally conservative Republican who favors abortion rights, would lose to Paul Cellucci in the Republican primary.

Malone said Sunday that he was surprised by the allegations. "Having known Paul Babeu for a lot of years, I believe him when he says that he wasn't pressuring this individual," he said.

In 1997, Babeu tried to return to local city politics, running for North Adams mayor and scoring a surprise upset over Barrett, the long-time mayor, in a preliminary election that September. But that election served only to narrow the field. In the final election in November, Barrett successfully beat back Babeu.

Babeu came back to challenge Barrett again in 2001, and lost by a large margin. He moved to Arizona after his second mayoral defeat.

Though the council was nonpartisan, Babeu was known as a strong conservative, Billings said.

Barrett, who acknowledged his contentious relationship with Babeu, said Babeu was very conservative, and very driven to win.

Alan Marden, who served with Babeu on the council, said Babeu was very aggressive and "a little strident." But Babeu was also a hard worker and a good campaigner, he said.

Babeu made headlines again during the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal in the early 2000s. Babeu alleged that a priest molested him in a Vermont rectory in December 1984 and January 1985.

Babeu alleged that he had previously been assaulted by a priest in Springfield. He Babeu said he confided in his brother two years later, who told the bishop of the Burlington, Vt., diocese.

In 2003, the Globe reported that Babeu, received a settlement in the "low five figures" from the Vermont diocese, according to his attorney. Babeu also filed a civil lawsuit against the two priests and the Springfield Diocese, the Globe said. He received a settlement from the Springfield diocese.

Professionally, while he was in Massachusetts, Babeu worked as executive director of the DeSisto School in Stockbridge for two years, stepping down during his second run for mayor. Babeu also served in the Massachusetts National Guard.



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