Investigators in Arizona are looking into whether embattled Sheriff Paul Babeu’s office destroyed records that may have shed light on whether he threatened to deport his immigrant ex-boyfriend after their breakup.
A report published Friday morning in the Arizona Republic said the inquiry is focusing on roughly 6,200 files that seem to have disappeared after state investigators requested they be preserved.The new revelations mean that Babeu, an immigration hawk who was a rising Republican star before the scandal broke last month, is now facing three investigations — one each at the federal, state and local levels.
They come at a time when Babeu is also trying to make a step up to Congress, running for the Republican nomination in the state’s newly created 4th District.
Last month, a Mexican immigrant named Jose Orozco outed the sheriff as gay and said he had been involved in a romance with him for several years before a nasty breakup. Orozco told the Phoenix New Times, which first broke the story, that Babeu threatened him with deportation if their relationship ever became public.
Babeu denied Orozco’s accusations and responded with some of his own, saying his former lover hacked his campaign website and stole his identity after their breakup.
Since then, a special prosecutor has been assigned by the state to investigate whether the Pinal County sheriff or his former lover broke the law during the fallout.
On Feb. 24, according to the Republic, an attorney for the state sent a letter to Pinal County, asking officials there to make sure every file, email and text message sent to or from Babeu or accessed by him since 2006 was preserved for the investigation.
But sometime between when the letter was sent and March 7, according to the newspaper, about 6,200 files disappeared from a hard drive that contained mostly emails involving Babeu and two of his top aides.
The top prosecutor from neighboring Pima County is now investigating whether anyone in Babeu’s office broke the law by deleting the files.
Meanwhile, Babeu’s spokesman denied there had been any wrongdoing.
“The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office has never deleted public records which have been requested, whether by media or any other entity,” spokesman Tim Gaffney told the newspaper.
Besides the latest investigation and the one looking into the breakup, Babeu and several of his top aides are also facing a federal investigation into whether they spent government resources to engage in political campaigning. They have denied wrongdoing in all three.