Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu today emphatically denied allegations that he or his attorney threatened to deport a jilted ex-lover after their relationship soured, as a Phoenix newspaper reported on Friday, and said he plans to remain sheriff and continue his campaign for higher office.
Babeu, a Republican who is running for Congress in the 4th Congressional District, just as emphatically defended his right to take sexually explicit photographs of himself and send them to boyfriends.
“We’re talking about personal liberties and freedoms,” he told dozens of reporters Saturday afternoon at a press conference.
Though he said he had not posted or sent explicit photos of himself “for some extreme time,” Babeu did not say he wouldn’t do so again in the future.
Flanked by dozens of supporters, including many of his top sheriff’s commanders who were wearing their uniforms, Babeu addressed claims made Friday by the Phoenix New Times. The alternative weekly newspaper published a story on its website early Friday evening in which his ex-boyfriend and the ex-boyfriend’s attorney said the sheriff and one of his closest aides threatened to deport the man if he spoke publicly of his years-long romantic relationship with Babeu.
“At no time did I or anyone who represents me threaten deportation. Ever,” Babeu said of the allegation. “It’s blatantly and completely false.”
The press conference also served as a platform for Babeu to announce that he is a homosexual, a rumor that has been prevalent in political circles since he was elected sheriff in 2008. Babeu blamed his “political opponents” for fabricating the allegations that he threatened an ex-boyfriend as “the vehicle in which (my sexuality) would be brought out publicly.”
“I think it’s clear to most people that there was an effort to harm me personally…and politically,” he said.
In addition to accusing Babeu of abusing his power as both a law enforcement officer and an elected official, theNew Times story included descriptions of photographs that Babeu took of himself and sent electronically to his ex-boyfriend. Some of the photos, including one in which Babeu is in his underwear, were published with the story. The paper also reported that another photo showed the sheriff naked from the waist down.
He acknowledged today that the photos, along with a profile on a gay dating website, were authentic. However, he said they did not reflect poorly on his judgment.
“What I do in my private, personal life is my business. I don’t see that (it was bad judgment),” he said.
Though he later acknowledged that the matter was “not so private any longer,” on more than a dozen occasions he refused to answer questions that he said were about his private life.
“Quite frankly, it’s none of your business,” he snapped in response to a question about sexually suggestive text messages cited in the New Times story.
Babeu also rejected comparisons to former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat who was forced to resign last year after he used the Internet to send a sexually graphic photo of himself to a young woman. Unlike Weiner, Babeu said he was not married and didn’t lie to cover up his actions, as Weiner initially did.
“We’re not hiding or ashamed of anything,” he said. “I want to set the record straight, because I want to get on to the real business of Arizona.”