As he deals with fallout from a scandal involving a campaign volunteer who turned out to be his secret boyfriend, conservative Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu has insisted time and again that whatever work the man did for his campaign was strictly unpaid.
While Babeu’s campaign finance reports initially appear to back up his claims, TPM has uncovered an unusual entry on a 2010 disclosure that deserves more explanation but which so far the sheriff has declined to discuss.
The entry is bound to raise eyebrows in light of revelations that Babeu’s own brother, who is also a politician in Arizona, paid the man with campaign funds from his own account during the same time frame in early 2010.While the amounts of the payments in question are relatively small, the issue is an important one. The sheriff’s ex-boyfriend, Jose Orozco, is an immigrant from Mexico in the United States on what he says is a tourist visa. If that’s true, and if the sheriff, who built a national reputation on fierce opposition to illegal immigration paid him any amount, it could spell legal trouble for both of them.
The entry appears on Babeu’s June 30, 2010 campaign finance report with the Pinal County Elections Department in Arizona.
It says that on April 8, 2010, the sheriff paid himself $95.81 out of his own campaign fund. The reason for the transaction, according to the filing, was “refund for website maint payment.”
The language would suggest Babeu paid someone out of his own pocket for maintenance of his website and then got the campaign to reimburse him for it.
The filing doesn’t say who Babeu paid for the service or why it initially came out of his own pocket. However, it’s typical for candidates to sometimes purchase campaign items on their own and then receive a reimbursement. Babeu even lists two other “refunds” that appear to be reimbursements in the filing, one for for $500 for “MFBQ autodialer” and the other for $270 for “campaign promotional ‘hats.'”
But this payment sticks out because, based on statements both men have made to the media in recent days, it appears to fall within the time Orozco was supposedly doing unpaid web maintenance work for the sheriff’s campaign.
It is also notable for how vague the description is. The sheriff got more specific in other disclosures about web-related services, citing payments directly to companies such as GoDaddy and PayPal.
If Orozco was in the United States on a tourist visa, as he reportedly told CNN earlier this week, it would likely mean that any payment to him in exchange for work would be illegal.
Prominent immigration attorney David Leopold of Ohio told TPM that it is generally against the law for someone with a tourist visa to the US to do any paid work. He also said it’s illegal to employ someone that you know is not allowed to work in the country.
“You cannot engage in gainful employment,” said Leopold, who is not involved in the Babeu case. “He can’t come in here, sit down at a computer and start getting involved in work.”
Babeu isn’t responding to questions about the issue. Neither he nor his campaign manager, Chris DeRose, have returned TPM’s multiple calls seeking comment. Likewise, Orozco’s attorney, Melissa Weiss-Riner, has not returned multiple calls for comment.
However, Babeu told CNN this week that Orozco worked “in an unpaid status” maintaining a campaign website and managing the sheriff’s Twitter account.
By itself, the April 8, 2010 payment doesn’t prove that Babeu ever paid Orozco for work. Orozco’s name appears nowhere in any of Babeu’s campaign finance reports from the year he first ran for sheriff, 2008, until his most recent filing on Jan. 31 of this year.
But combined with other facts that have come out in recent days, it’s enough to question whether Babeu paid Orozco with the money and why the sheriff listed it as a “refund” to himself.
One clue comes from a similar payment that Babeu’s younger brother and fellow Arizona politician, Shaun Babeu, made to Orozco in the same time frame.
On Wednesday night, Phoenix television station KNXV broke the news about the payment, showing the younger Babeu paid Orozco for work on his website in 2010.
Shaun Babeu is an elected justice of the peace in Pinal County and presides over minor criminal and civil cases. Campaign records show he lives at the same address as his brother in the town of San Tan Valley, about 40 miles southeast of Phoenix.
TPM confirmed that Shaun Babeu listed a $79.64 payment to Orozco for “website registration” on his June 30, 2010 campaign finance report with the county elections department.
He did not disclose what date the payment was made, as he was required to do by law. However, the report covers all of his campaign transactions from Jan. 1 through May 31 of that year.
That puts the younger Babeu’s payment to Orozco in the same time frame as his older brother’s April 8 “refund.”
Shaun Babeu did not return a call seeking comment about the payment.
It’s also worth noting that Paul Babeu has said in recent days that he knew his ex-boyfriend was doing business in the United States. Scrambling to defend himself against Orozco’s allegations, the sheriff released letters that were sent between Babeu’s campaign manager and Orozco last year. In one letter on Sept. 6, Babeu’s campaign manager, Chris DeRose, said that the ex-boyfriend was facing legal trouble because of a website he created to highlight supposed ethical problems with the sheriff.
“You exposed yourself and your company to civil litigation,” DeRose wrote, adding later: “Please be advised that you and your business will be sued, jointly and severally, for actual, consequential, and punitive damages, as well as attorneys’ fees, and criminal charges may be filed with the appropriate law enforcement authorities if the following corrective action is not taken at once.”
Orozco told CNN this week that his business was called Website Results, LLC. Arizona corporation records show that Orozco filed paperwork to create the business on July 8, 2011. However, he had the company dissolved on Jan. 10 of this year.
Leopold, the Ohio immigration attorney, told TPM it’s not necessarily illegal for Orozco to have created the business. Foreign visitors are generally allowed to own businesses in the US regardless of their visa status. It’s even probably legal for Orozco to have taken money from someone, Leopold said. The problem is in where the work took place. If it happened in the US, then Orozco could be in trouble.
“I think where he crosses the line is when he goes back to the office and starts building a website,” Leopold said. “Now he’s engaging in gainful employment.”
Moreover, Leopold said, if Babeu or anyone else knew about Orozco’s immigration status and hired him anyway, they could face legal consequences of their own.
Meanwhile, an independent investigator has been tapped to start looking into the scandal and determine whether Babeu or Orozco broke the law. Each man has made serious allegations against the other in recent days. And each has denied the other’s accusations.
Orozco told the Phoenix New Times newspaper in a story published last week that the sheriff threatened to have him deported if their relationship ever became public.
In response, Babeu accused his ex-lover of what he calls “legitimate crimes,” saying Orozco hacked into his campaign website and posted phony messages on his Twitter account after their breakup.
The sheriff has said the scandal changes nothing about his current plans. He says he is still running for the Republican nomination for Congress in Arizona’s 4th District. And he plans to serve out his full term as sheriff.
Editor’s note: As a courtesy in advance of publication, TPM redacted the sheriff’s home address from the image attached to the post.