The Phoenix New Times dropped a bombshell of a story on Friday, in which Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu was outed as a gay man. But that's the least of it: In it, a Mexican ex-boyfriend claimed the rising Republican star and outspoken immigration opponent threatened him with deportation when the boyfriend refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement about their relationship, which spanned years. Proof of the relationship came via text messages between the 34-year-old "Jose" (last name withheld) and Babeu, as well as compromising photos of Babeu groping Jose, and posing in front of a bathroom mirror in only briefs -- his profile photo for an ad on gay hookup site Adam 4 Adam. (The photos are posted on the New Times website.)
Babeu, who is running for Congress, gave a news conference in Florence, AZ., today, where he acknowledged that he had "a personal relationship" with Jose, the LA Times reports. He went on to say that the allegations were "absolutely, completely false, except for the issues that refer to me as being gay. Because that's the truth. I am gay." The anti-immigration hardliner was stumping recently for Mitt Romney's campaign, but has now decided to step down as co-chairman of the Arizona Romney for President campaign.
"We support his decision," Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement.
The two men met in October 2006 on gay.com. It began as an "online invitation for the two to get together," the New Times reports. What began as a personal relationship then turned into a professional one, with Jose maintaining Babeu's official social media pages. Eventually the love affair soured, and according to Jose's account, Babeu sent his attorney Chris DeRose after him.
DeRose demanded he sign an agreement that he would never breathe a word about the affair. The 34-year-old from central Mexico charges that the sheriff's lawyer warned against mentioning the affair with Babeu. DeRose said gossip about Babeu would focus attention on Jose, attention that could result in his deportation, Jose says.
Melissa Weiss-Riner, Jose's attorney, confirms her client's account.
One text from Babeu to Jose, dated Sept. 4, 2011, read:
"You can never have business after this and you will harm me and many others in the process . . . including yourself & your family."
Babeu's press conference lasted nearly 45 minutes, during which he defended his record as sheriff, and confirmed the photos provided to the New Times were of him. He also made a point to distance himself from another recent political sex scandal: "This isn't a case of … Rep. Weiner," Babeu told reporters.