Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sheriff Paul Babeu's ex-boyfriend files $1 million lawsuit against him

Things go from bad to worse in this saga. Pinal County, Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu is now facing a lawsuit from his ex-boyfriend Jose Orozco seeking $1 million in damages.

The Republic reports: The notice of claim, which attorneys for Jose Orozco filed with the sheriff and the county's Board of Supervisors, seeks $1 million in damages, according to County Manager Fritz Behring.

Additional details about the notice of claim were unavailable last night. Neither Orozco, nor Orozco's lawyer, Melissa Weiss-Riner, could be reached for comment. Babeu's lawyer also could not be reached.

Tim Gaffney, Sheriff's Office director of communications and grants, issued this statement in response to a request for comment:
"A notice of claim was provided to our office earlier today regarding this matter. As with any pending civil litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time."
You can read the backstory after the jump:

Babeu's relationship with Orozco surfaced Feb.17 when the Phoenix New Times alleged the sheriff and his attorney, Chris DeRose, had threatened that the former boyfriend, who is Mexican, could be deported if he revealed the relationship.

The next day, Babeu stood in front of the sheriff's office in uniform and acknowledged he is gay but denied abusing his position or making threats. DeRose also has denied making threats. Babeu has said the disclosure in the New Times was the result of an effort to undermine him politically.

Babeu has said that Orozco was a volunteer campaign worker in charge of managing his campaign website and Twitter account. Babeu claims that after the relationship ended, Orozco retaliated by posting negative material online.

Babeu has said he declined to pursue criminal charges against Orozco after Babeu's lawyer sent him a cease-and-desist letter and Orozco agreed to stop posting the material.

A day after DeRose told The Arizona Republic that the sheriff would not seek an independent investigation to clear his name, Babeu asked Attorney General Tom Horne to open an inquiry. Horne designated his office's solicitor general to lead an independent investigation.

Amy Rezzonico, a spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's Office, said that the investigation will look at all allegations that have been made, both against Babeu and against Orozco.

In the weeks since the New Times story, Babeu's background has come under renewed scrutiny. One of his opponents for the Republican primary, state Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, has called for Babeu to drop out of the congressional race. Pete Rios, chairman of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors, has also called on Babeu to step aside as sheriff.

The lawsuit could create new political headaches for Babeu, who is eeking to put his campaign on firmer footing.

The district he is running in is perhaps Arizona's most conservative and the GOP field includes a sitting member of Congress, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.

Before the Orozco matter, Babeu burst into the race with $263,000 in campaign funds raised since he officially began exploring a race in October. That surpassed Gosar and instantly made Babeu the front-runner for the seat in the newly drawn district.

Beyond being a political liability, Orozco also poses another potential legal one for Babeu as well. Orozco is a Mexican national who has said he worked on Babeu's campaign websites before their breakup. He is believed to be a legal immigrant here on a tourist visa, which would prohibit him from such work, even if unpaid.

Also, questions have arisen about whether Orozco made a $40 campaign contribution to Babeu's 2008 run for sheriff; Babeu's campaign filings list a donor named Jose Orozco. Political donations are also prohibited for such immigrants.

In addition to the potential lawsuit, the Sheriff's Office already faces a federal investigation into whether one or more employees engaged in prohibited political activity while on the job.

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