Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu, Originally from Western Mass., Resigns from Mitt Romney's Arizona Campaign after Misconduct Allegations by Former Lover

By Conor Berry
The Republican
February 21, 2012

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu speaks at a news conference on Saturday, Feb. 18, in Florence, Ariz. Babeu, a sheriff seeking the GOP nomination for an Arizona congressional seat, was forced to acknowledge that he's gay amid allegations of misconduct made by his former lover. Babeu denied claims he tried to threaten the man, who is Hispanic, with deportation if their past relationship was made public. The man's immigration status is unclear.

North Adams native Paul Babeu's official profile picture as sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona.

Paul R. Babeu, of North Adams, broke into tears during a press conference in June 2002 outside the Franklin County Courthouse in Greenfield. Babeu, who's now sheriff of Pinal County, Ariz., alleged that he was abused by Rev. Richard R. Lavigne, a former Catholic priest in the Springfield diocese. Pictured at right is Sister Eunice Tassone, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph in North Adams.

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With just one week until Arizona's Republican presidential primary, a Western Massachusetts native and U.S. congressional candidate has resigned as co-chairman of Mitt Romney's Arizona campaign.

The resignation of Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu came following allegations he was romantically linked to a Mexican immigrant who claims Babeu threatened him with deportation if he ever publicly revealed their relationship.

Babeu, a former Berkshire County commissioner and North Adams city councilor, parted ways with Romney's campaign after an alternative weekly magazine reported he allegedly threatened to have his former lover deported if the man refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep their past romance private.

Babeu, 43, has denied any misconduct in the matter, which forced him to publicly acknowledge that he is gay.

Known for his hardline stance on illegal immigration and other conservative causes, Babeu was among the Western Massachusetts men who claimed they were sexually assaulted as children by Richard R. Lavigne, a former priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. Babeu also claimed he was sexually assaulted in Vermont by George Paulin, a former Catholic priest from Montague who worked in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.

Lavigne pleaded guilty in 1992 to molesting two former altar boys. Several years later, the diocese settled lawsuits with 17 alleged sexual abuse victims for $1.4 million. Lavigne was defrocked in 2004 and remains the only publicly identified suspect in the unsolved 1972 murder of Springfield altar boy Daniel Croteau, though Lavigne was never charged with a crime.

In 2003, Babeu agreed to drop his lawsuit against the Burlington diocese after a settlement was reached. The terms of that settlement, including the precise sum of money awarded to Babeu, were not publicly disclosed.

Babeu, a self-described "true conservative," acknowledged his sexual orientation during a press conference on Saturday in Arizona. Babeu, a political ally of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and fellow Western Massachusetts native Joe Arpaio, who is the longtime sheriff of neighboring Maricopa County, denied any misconduct and vowed to stay in the race to represent Arizona's 4th Congressional District.

Prior to the weekend revelation, Babeu had held a slim lead over incumbent U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar in polling conducted ahead of the Republican primary. But political experts now believe his chances of representing the rural, conservative district are slim to none, with some party members urging him to abandon his campaign.

Babeu denied a published report in the Phoenix New Times, the alternative weekly newspaper that outed him and revealed the allegations by his former lover. The man, who only was identified as Jose, had volunteered on Babeu's congressional campaign.

"A tabloid article made a number of false allegations about me. Only one was true: I'm gay," Babeu said in prepared remarks at the press conference.

"I want to be judged on my service," Babeu said. "I hope you will stand with me as we talk about the issues that matter: securing our border and ending the record debt and deficit-spending that is stalling our economy and bankrupting the country we all love."

Babeu's service includes 20 years in the U.S. Army, including a deployment to Iraq, and a law enforcement career as a police officer and sheriff of Pinal County since 2008.

His Massachusetts political career never really got off the ground. Babeu lost 1997 and 2001 bids to unseat longtime North Adams Mayor John Barrett III. Barrett, the longest-serving mayor in the commonwealth, finally was ousted in November 2009. Barrett, a Democrat, said Babeu launched an email campaign to help former city councilor Richard Alcombright defeat him.

In 1996, Babeu ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate seat previously held by former acting Gov. Jane M. Swift.

Babeu did not respond to a request for an interview by The Republican. An assistant to the sheriff said she would relay the message to him, but Babeu's office did not immediately respond.

Officials who worked with Babeu when he was an aspiring politician in the Berkshires praised him as a savvy, intelligent individual who has carved out a national reputation as a proponent of securing the U.S.-Mexico border. But critics also have pointed out the apparent hypocrisy of his political beliefs and his personal life.

"He's certainly made a name for himself out in the Southwest," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.

"I can't help but think why Paul wasn't a little bit more forthright about his lifestyle," Pignatelli said, pointing out what he considers to be a clash between Babeu's politics and personal life.

"We were very polarized politically, but I would never question his intelligence or work ethic," said Pignatelli, who once served as county commissioner with Babeu and is currently the dean of the Berkshires' Statehouse delegation.

Pignatelli said Babeu's past, including the allegations of clergy sexual abuse, played a role in the former North Adams resident's desire to leave Massachusetts. Since then, however, Babeu has emerged as a leading conservative voice on immigration issues. Pignatelli is among those who have said this latest news could spell the end of Babeu's career as a conservative politician; "It won't play well with voters," he said.

"There is no question that his budding congressional campaign is over," longtime Arizona Republican political consultant Sean Noble wrote on his blog. "Because it is a Republican primary in a conservative district, it's likely that the thing that hurts him the most is that he was in a gay relationship."

Others said they are unsure how Babeu's story would end, but agreed that the allegations would dim his status as a rising star in the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

"It obviously has implications for a congressional race. There's just no question about it," said Bruce Merrill, an Arizona State University political science professor emeritus and a longtime pollster. "I don't see how any reasonable person cannot think that this is going to hurt him, particularly with the constituency that he has built, which is a very evangelical, right-wing, family oriented conservative constituency."

Babeu gained national attention for attacking the Obama administration and for being tapped by McCain to champion the Arizona senator's border-security plan. Babeu appeared alongside McCain in a 2010 re-election ad in which the senator urged federal officials to just "complete the danged fence" between the U.S. and Mexico.

The Romney campaign appeared to take Babeu's resignation in stride. "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," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement.

Babeu had campaigned with Romney, and the sheriff was featured in Iowa robocalls attacking Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was then seeking the GOP nomination.

The allegations against Babeu come as Romney is fighting to win the Feb. 28 primary in Arizona. The GOP contenders are slated to debate in Arizona next week.

Babeu's campaign manager, Chris DeRose, said the sheriff's congressional campaign was notified on Friday afternoon about the allegations, and Babeu immediately offered to step down from his role as co-chairman of Romney's Arizona campaign. "He didn't want this to become a distraction," DeRose said.

Meanwhile, Babeu and his attorney are disputing allegations that the sheriff's former lover is an illegal alien. The man's immigration status is unclear.

Babeu had previously avoided a public stance on gay rights, but after Saturday's outing he said he favors them. He called the experience "liberating."

Despite the western Massachusetts connection, Arpaio, a Springfield native and fellow Republican Arizona sheriff, distanced himself from Babeu. "All I can say is he's the sheriff of Pinal County, and it's up to him to face his issues, not me," Arpaio told The Arizona Republic.


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