By Ricardo Lopez, Los Angeles Times –
LOS ANGELES — An Arizona sheriff running for Congress as a Republican denied accusations Saturday that he threatened to deport an alleged ex-lover, a Mexican national. In the process, he also resigned from a volunteer position with Mitt Romney’s Arizona campaign and came out as gay.
After a report published Thursday by the weekly Phoenix New Times, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu acknowledged that he had a “personal relationship” with a man identified only as Jose.
Jose accused the sheriff of threatening to deport him after he refused to sign an agreement stipulating that he would not disclose details of their romantic involvement, the newspaper reported.
At a news conference Saturday, Babeu called the allegations “absolutely, completely false, except for the issues that refer to me as being gay. Because that’s the truth. I am gay.”
Babeu, considered an emerging star in the Republican Party, is known for his hard-line stance against illegal immigration, and told reporters he did not break any laws, instead casting the allegations as attempts to derail his congressional campaign.
He said he had called the Romney campaign to resign from his position as co-chair of the Arizona Romney for President campaign. “We support his decision,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement.
Babeu, 43, had been stumping for Romney in recent months, appearing recently at an event with former Vice President Dan Quayle.
During the almost 45-minute news conference, the sheriff defended his record as head of the law enforcement agency, and confirmed the authenticity of photos of himself circulating in the Phoenix New Times and elsewhere, including one of him posing in a bathroom wearing only undershorts.
“This isn’t a case of … Rep. Weiner,” Babeu said, invoking disgraced ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, who resigned after sending photos of himself to women online.
The Phoenix New Times published photographs on its website that it said came from the sheriff’s online profile on a gay dating site where men tend to solicit sex.
A message left with a Pinal County sheriff’s spokesman seeking comment was not immediately returned Saturday.
In text messages published by the weekly, Babeu allegedly told Jose: “You can never have business after this and you will harm me and many others in the process … including yourself & your family.”
Pinal County, with a population of about 400,000, is a largely rural county between Phoenix, which lies just north, and Tucson, to the south.
Babeu vowed to continue his campaign for Arizona’s rural western 4th Congressional District seat, where he is running against fellow Republican Paul Gosar.