One of three candidates reportedly being vetted by President Donald Trump to head the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency — which oversees the U.S. Border Patrol — is being investigated by federal authorities over his former agency's use of RICO funds, or money and assets seized during criminal investigations. And that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to scandal-plagued former Pinal County, Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu.
Babeu is no stranger to the national stage. He frequently appears on cable news channels as a hawkish expert on border enforcement — despite the fact that the county he oversaw for eight years covers precisely none of the U.S. border with Mexico (it does include a preferred corridor for drug and human smugglers, including the Vekol Valley, a prime avenue for criminal activity that originates below the border.) For years he was a conservative darling and a rising star in Republican politics who talked tough about immigration and even appeared in a 2010 campaign ad for Senator John McCain advocating for a border fence.
While Babeu may be known in the world of cable news as an immigration hardliner, back at home in the Grand Canyon State he's better remembered for a massive scandal in 2012 that ultimately discredited the down-on-brown rhetoric he spewed on Fox News, forced him to come out of the closet as a "gay American" and cost him a job as the Arizona co-chair of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. As Babeu was exploring a run for Congress, the Phoenix New Times broke a story that the then-sheriff had been involved in a sexual relationship with a man named Jose Orozco. The two met on a gay dating site in 2006 and began a years-long relationship. In the middle of their lengthy affair, Orozco caught Babeu using a different dating site under the handle "studboi1." As if a tough-talking conservative sheriff being outed as gay wasn't shocking enough for voters in rural Pinal County, Orozco also happened to be in the country illegally and claimed that Babeu threatened him with deportation if he ever revealed their relationship publicly — an allegation the former sheriff denies.
(Note: I worked at the Phoenix New Times in 2012 when it broke the story about Babeu's beau and I frequently covered him and the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.)
But Babeu's penchant for scandal goes beyond dating an illegal immigrant and allegedly threatening him with deportation; lest we forget the school — described by one member of Congress as a "place of horrors" — he ran for troubled youth before he became sheriff.
From 1999 to 2001, Babeu was the headmaster and executive director at the DeSisto School in Massachusetts, where allegations of physical and sexual abuse were rampant. ABC 15, in Phoenix, Arizona, investigated the allegations and unearthed video of Babeu bragging about abusing students, some of whom had psychological disorders. A state investigation of the school found that in addition to physical abuse, students "strip searched" each other and "routinely took group showers"..."leading to sexual abuse." In an even more shocking allegation, made by Babeu's own sister, she claimed the former sheriff had a sexual relationship with one of the students from the school. Lucy Babeu told ABC 15 that she found her brother living with the young man.
"I said what is this student from DeSisto doing here? He says, 'Lucy, he's my boyfriend. I love him,'" she told the station. "I said Paul get a hold of yourself here. You were his teacher! You were his Executive Director! You can't do this."
Uploaded By:ABC15 Arizona
It's worth noting that Lucy Babeu brought similar allegations about her brother to myself and my colleagues at the Phoenix New Times in both 2011 and 2012 but we were unable to verify them. We also questioned her credibility as she appeared to have an ax to grind with her brother, who at that time was beginning to make a name for himself as an anti-immigrant hardliner.
As for his latest brush with scandal, local media outlets in Arizona reported on Monday that FBI agents seized a number of items from the Pinal County Sheriff's Office that were related to Babeu's time as sheriff. According to Pinalcentral.com, the items include a number of hard drives and cell phones that belonged to members of Babeu's administration. It's unclear what federal authorities are investigating, but the publication points out that it "comes months after an organization with ties to PCSO was subpoenaed by the FBI."
That organization is the Arizona Public Safety Foundation, a non-profit that raises money for law enforcement and other first responders that received hundreds of thousands of dollars in RICO funds that went through Babeu's office and was signed off on by the now-former county attorney of Pinal County. RICO money is intended to be used to fund additional anti-racketeering operations, so any RICO funds given to the foundation must be used for that purpose. But critics believe the foundation was used as a "slush fund" for Babeu and his PCSO cronies; they would give RICO money to the foundation and the foundation would give it back by paying for things the PCSO wanted, allowing the department to sidestep government purchasing procurement laws.
In 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit alleging that Babeu was using the APSF as a way to essentially launder RICO funds and funnel them back into the PCSO.
"At a minimum, it seems that by funneling money to a private group which buys things for him and his department, Defendant (Sheriff Paul) Babeu is able to avoid procurement laws and other transparency regulations which usually apply to government purchasing," the ACLU's complaint stated.
Trump is yet to make a decision on who will head up the CBP, but given his sordid past, Babeu seems like he would fit right into a Trump administration that already is rife with turmoil, and seems hell-bent on booting 11 million people back across the border.
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