Report: Ariz. Sheriff Threatened To Deport Boyfriend

Conservative Arizona sheriff Paul Babeu resigned over the weekend as chair of Mitt Romney's Arizona campaign. After announcing his run for Congress, the Phoenix New Times reported that he's gay and had previously threatened a Mexican boyfriend with deportation.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Paul Babeu, the Arizona state co-chair of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, resigned over the weekend. He is a Republican congressional candidate himself and an Arizona sheriff known for his tough stance on illegal immigration.

As NPR's Ted Robbins reports, Babeu resigned from the Romney campaign after published reports that he had threatened a former lover, a Mexican man, with deportation.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Paul Babeu became a national figure two years ago when he appeared in Arizona Senator John McCain's best-known re-election ad. The Pinal County sheriff walked with McCain next to the existing fence between the U.S. and Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: And complete the danged fence.

SHERIFF PAUL BABEU: It'll work this time. Senator, you're one of us.

ROBBINS: Since then, Babeu - shaven head, always appearing in uniform - has done countless interviews on border enforcement. The National Sheriff's Association even named him Sheriff of the Year. Babeu announced he was running for Congress in January.

But late last week, the Phoenix New Times reported that Babeu's lawyer had threatened a Mexican immigrant if he revealed a years-long relationship with the sheriff. The man, identified as Jose, said he went to the paper because he was afraid he'd be deported. Babeu responded in a news conference.

BABEU: All these allegations that were in one of these newspapers are absolutely, completely false, except for the issues that refer to me as being gay, because that's the truth. I am gay.

ROBBINS: Babeu says Jose worked on his campaign when they were together, running the sheriff's campaign website and social media. When the two men broke up, Babeu says his lawyer told Jose to stop posting on the site. The sheriff says no threats were made.

At one point in his news conference, Babeu said he felt relieved to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality. But actually, in a way, he did that awhile ago when he posted bare-chested photos of himself on at least one gay dating site. Phoenix New Times published more pictures of Babeu, including one of him in an embrace with Jose whose face is blurred. Babeu called the photos off limits.

BABEU: What I do in my private and personal life is my business.

ROBBINS: But the Sheriff now has three very public problems. First, the admission that he's gay could hurt him with conservative voters who make up much of Arizona's 4th congressional district. Second are the photos Babeu posted and gave to his lover.

BRUCE MERRILL: It doesn't show what I would call good judgment.

ROBBINS: Bruce Merrill is a longtime Arizona political pollster and researcher. He says the most damaging problem may be that Sheriff Babeu allegedly threatened to turn his ex-lover over to immigration authorities.

MERRILL: I mean, a police officer's been fired because they looked up the license plate of somebody and abusing their position and people were really offended by that.

ROBBINS: Not to mention the awkwardness of an immigration hawk dating a man who's a Mexican immigrant. Babeu believes, by the way, that Jose is not an illegal immigrant.

BABEU: Everything that I understand is that he's absolutely in legal status here, absolutely.

ROBBINS: Late today, a disguised Jose appeared on CNN and said he has a valid visa, but he didn't show it. He said again he feared for his safety because of the sheriff's threats. So far, it's his word against Babeu's. Either way, the political damage is done. Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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