Outed gay sheriff cleared in abuse of power probe

Paul Babeu has been cleared in a state investigation into whether he abused his authority as sheriff of Arizona’s Pinal County, after his former boyfriend who is a Mexican immigrant accused Babeu of threatening him.

State Solicitor General Dave Cole said that nothing indicates Babeu misused his authority or public money to harass or intimidate Jose Orozco, and Cole declined to file criminal charges in the case. He also exonerated Orozco, whom Babeu accused of property and identity theft in the handling of the sheriff’s Twitter account and other websites.

Babeu had asked the attorney general’s office earlier this year to look into Orozco’s claims. Cole oversaw the seven-month investigation to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest on the part of Attorney General Tom Horne.

“The truth has won out in the end,” Babeu said in a statement. “I was attacked personally, professionally and politically with these false allegations, and today, I’m fully cleared. It’s not surprise that these attacks came during an election year in a failed attempt to destroy me.”

Orozco’s attorney Adnan Horan said his client “is disappointed with the solicitor general’s decision not proceed with any charges against Sheriff Babeu,” but added that it also “confirms Mr. Orozco’s innocence.”

The sheriff, who recently won the Republican nomination in his re-election bid, had pulled out of the race for a congressional seat after news broke of his falling out with Orozco. The two met online in 2006 and had an on-again, off-again relationship.

Babeu, known for his hardline stance on illegal immigration and border security, was considered a strong candidate in the 4th Congressional District. He said he decided to seek another term as sheriff because his deputy could not run and to keep a promise to constituents that he would maintain a continuity of leadership.

Orozco had volunteered to work with Babeu’s campaign and maintained his websites until Babeu hired a consultant to take them over. Even then, Babeu said Orozco was hesitant to hand over passwords and domain names. Orozco told authorities he worked hard on the website as an unpaid volunteer and wasn’t about to turn it over to a paid consultant.

The attorney general’s office had considered filing harassment and other charges against Orozco but determined that prosecution of misdemeanor counts wouldn’t be a good use of resources.

Babeu said he asked Orozco to keep private the details of their personal relationship. Babeu acknowledged he is gay after a picture of him shirtless was posted on a gay dating website.

“Mr. Orozco is pleased that the attorney general’s office has completed its investigation and is ready to move forward,” Horan said.

Babeu still faces another inquiry from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. That office is looking into whether Babeu and his top aides violated the federal Hatch Act, which makes it illegal for certain government workers to participate in political activities.

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