Attorneys for the ex-boyfriend of Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu proclaimed their client’s innocence today, saying he never hacked into the lawman’s campaign websites.
Adnan Horan, attorney for Jose Orozco, a Mexican citizen who claimed in a news article that Babeu threatened him with deportation after their relationship disintegrated, held a news conference announcing Orozco’s denial of any wrongdoing, but Orozco was absent and Horan answered few questions.
Horan said Orozco will cooperate with an investigation by Solicitor General David Cole, who assumed control of it Wednesday after Attorney General Tom Horne disqualified himself because Babeu’s endorsement of him in the 2010 election created a conflict of interest.
Babeu, who is running in the Republican primary for the 4th Congressional District, asked Horne on Tuesday to conduct an investigation into allegations that Orozco hacked into his campaign website and his Twitter account. Horne said the investigation will also look into Orozco’s allegations that Babeu threatened to have him deported.
“He is presumed innocent. This is not what Jose did,” Horan said.
Orozco’s allegations against Babeu came in a Feb. 17 Phoenix New Times story. Horan said text messages cited in the article back up Orozco’s allegations.
Text messages from Babeu to Orozco cited in the article tell Orozco that he could put himself, Babeu and Orozco’s family in jeopardy. The cited text message is not put into context.
In another text, Babeu tells Orozco he crossed the line, he had better get an attorney and that Orozco’s brother will be contacted.
Orozco’s other attorney, Melissa Weiss-Riner, also told the New Times that Babeu’s attorney, Chris DeRose, brought up Orozco’s deportation in a Sept. 12 telephone conversation.
Weiss-Riner and Horan refused to answer questions pertaining to the New Times article.
DeRose said the criminal allegations against Orozco are solid, so he wouldn’t have to bring up any “baseless” deportation matters.
“I don’t know anything about his visa,” DeRose said.
DeRose said he made a broad statement in a cease and desist letter to Orozco that his actions could have devastating financial and personal consequences for him and his family. Broad statements of general harms are common for such letters, he said.
The lawyer said Babeu’s reference in the text message about Orozco’s brother was to warn him that his relationship with his brother could be harmed because he didn’t approve of Orozco’s homosexuality.
“It [means] that ‘You’re making this public not just for me, but for you, too,’” DeRose said.
Babeu’s spokesman, Tim Gaffney, sent out a statement Wednesday saying that since the allegations are under investigation, the sheriff would not comment anymore.
Babeu said in a CNN interview Monday that Orozco committed several crimes against his campaign and stole images from his campaign.
“He wanted to harm me,” Babeu said.
Horan said Orozco was a campaign volunteer and had administrative access to the sheriff’s websites and Twitter account, but when the personal relationship soured between them, he was faced with threats of a lawsuit.
DeRose sent Orozco a cease and desist letter on Sept. 6, telling him to turn over control of the sites immediately or face a lawsuit and a slew of possible criminal charges.
“He complied with that request,” Horan said.
During a brief statement on Orozco’s innocence, Horan said he wasn’t going to answer any questions because it would be unwise to while the matter is under investigation.
Five local television news outlets and three Spanish television outlets were the only press invited, although other outlets did arrive and were allowed to participate. Horan also demanded that no footage be aired until noon Thursday.
Horan said Orozco will also cooperate with a little-known task force that may conduct an initial inquiry to see if a formal investigation is warranted.
On Monday, Pinal County Attorney James Walsh asked the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Council’s Public Integrity Task Force to begin the inquiry.
Walsh said he couldn’t conduct any investigation of Babeu since the Sheriff’s Office is his client.
Southern Arizona prosecutors and the Tucson City prosecutor comprise the task force, which is chaired by Pima County Attorney. Other similar task forces exist in other regions of the state.
LaWall said the task force won’t convene until after her office determines whether it is subject to the state’s open meeting laws and whether there are any exceptions to the law for inquiries into allegations of wrongdoing.
“You don’t want to make any kind of inquiries into potential or possible wrongdoing in an open meeting, that would be very inhibiting,” she said. “We may decide not to take it on if that’s the case.”
LaWall said the open meeting question will be “the litmus test of whether the task force even exists.”
The task force has been used sparingly since it was established in 1992 and never since LaWall took office in 1996.
Former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley said it was established in response to AzScam, a sting involving Arizona lawmakers caught on video surveillance accepting bribes.
Romley said the idea was to give prosecutors with a conflict of interest in a case an avenue to have it reviewed by an independent body.
It was intended to provide an initial assessment for deciding whether a formal investigation is warranted.
Romley said it was used it a few times in the early years of its existence, but he couldn’t recall which cases. Eventually, prosecutors went back to the old way of doing business, which is to call up another county attorney and ask for the inquiry. That practice invites the criticism that the prosecutor is handpicking an investigator, Romley said.