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02.18.12

Paul Babeu, Immigration Hawk Sheriff, Outed by Alleged Mexican Gay Lover

In a bombshell report, a Mexican immigrant alleges a gay love affair with an Arizona immigration-hawk sheriff and Romney campaign co-chair. Terry Greene Sterling reports.

Known only as “Jose,” a Mexican immigrant has outed a famous Arizona immigration-hawk sheriff, CPAC speaker, and congressional candidate who rose to conservative stardom after a cameo appearance in John McCain’s famous “Dang Fence” campaign ad. In an explosive story published in the Phoenix New Times, Jose claims that Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu's lawyer threatened him with deportation if he spilled the beans about their alleged love affair.

Following the report, Babeu hastily called a press conference on Saturday during which he announced, “I’m gay." He admitted having a “personal relationship” with Jose but said “at no time” did he or anyone who worked for him threaten Jose with deportation.

Babeu, 43, a Mitt Romney supporter, said that in light of his “coming out” he “chose” to step down as a co-chairman of the Republican presidential candidate's campaign. Surrounded by supportive deputies, Babeu said the Republican Party had a big tent, and he would continue actively campaigning for an Arizona congressional seat.

“This is my private life,” he said, “and now it’s out for the world to see ... The measure of who I am is how I’m handling this today.”

Jose told the Phoenix New Times that he and the sheriff had been romantically involved for several years. When the relationship ended, Jose told the newspaper, Babeu’s lawyer threatened Jose with deportation if he revealed the affair.

The story included a photo, allegedly of Babeu with his hand in Jose’s shirt. The newspaper also published a screen shot from a gay dating website showing an Anthony Weiner–style bathroom self-portrait, allegedly of Babeu, describing himself as “one good guy looking for another” who is HIV negative and seeks safe one-on-one sex. At the press conference, Babeu didn’t deny the ad and said that unlike Weiner, he wasn’t married and didn’t “lie” about the photo.

Babeu and his lawyer, Chris DeRose, told The Arizona Republic that Jose was a campaign volunteer for Babeu and had improperly accessed Babeu’s campaign website. As a result, DeRose sent Jose a cease-and-desist order in September. DeRose denied he threatened to deport Jose.

Jose was in charge of Babeu’s social-media sites, according to Babeu, and he began posting “uncomplimentary” information on those sites. That prompted the cease-and-desist order, Babeu said.

As Arizona reached the height of illegal-immigration hysteria in 2010, Babeu made a cameo appearance on John McCain’s desperate Senate campaign video imploring the president to build the “dang fence," referring to a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border. Though illegal immigration in Arizona declined for six straight years and FBI statistics deemed border cities safe, Babeu remained a strong illegal-immigration hawk.

Babeu served for 20 years in the National Guard and was once a headmaster of a Massachusetts school for boys. The Arizona Daily Star reported that as a boy Babeu had been molested by a Catholic priest. He became sheriff of Pinal County, on the east side of the Phoenix metro area, in 2009. He is a staunch ally of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Babeu admitted having a “personal relationship” with Jose but said “at no time” did he or anyone who worked for him threaten Jose with deportation.

In January, he announced his run for Congress and recently spoke at a CPAC convention, painting himself as a “first responder” to the immigration crisis

Babeu was criticized for appearing on a white-supremacist radio show and was embarrassed when one of his deputies claimed to have been shot by pistol-packing narcos while on duty. The wound was widely believed to have been self-inflicted, no narcos were ever found, and the deputy was fired.

On Saturday, Babeu expressed relief at having come out but repeatedly said his personal life was his own business.

“I’m not married, I’m a single guy, I don’t have a fake girlfriend,” he said. “I haven’t seen women for a long time on a romantic basis.”

He also said countless women had tried to date and marry him, but he is “off the market.”