The man accusing Mitt Romney’s former Arizona campaign co-chair of threatening to deport him if he made their relationship public stood by his claim Monday in an interview with CNN.
A Mexican national (whose attorney requested that he be identified as “Jose” as he “continues to live in fear”) repeated his allegation that his former boyfriend, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, suggested he would have him deported if he leaked the news about their romantic involvement.
It’s an extraordinary turn of events for Babeu, a Romney supporter and rising political star, and a 34-year-old Mexican immigrant who now finds themselves amidst a personal controversy with presidential politics as the backdrop.
Babeu staunchly denies “Jose’s” allegations of wrongdoing. While he announced his resignation as the co-chair of Romney’s campaign in Arizona on Saturday, he did, however, acknowledge having a romantic relationship with “Jose.”
A candidate himself, Babeu is running for a House seat from Arizona’s 4th Congressional District. He is known for his hard line on immigration and gained high profile status in campaign appearances for Sen. John McCain.
“Jose” said his immigration status is current and legal. He said he travels back and forth home to Mexico on a 10-year, US tourist visa that allows multiple-crossings of the border. He also said he was running a business in Arizona called Website Results LLC and claimed it’s legal to run the business in the country, even on a tourist visa.
The pair, Jose said, initially met on the website “gay.com” in 2006, and Babeu allegedly emailed Jose a photo of him with McCain –a politician Jose said he didn’t know about at the time.
They started dating and were together for three years in all, Jose said, including a short period of time when the two had split up.
Jose claims that he fell in love with Babeu and now reluctantly says he doesn’t think the sheriff was ever in love with him. He added that Babeu never asked about his visa status but did one time look at his passport.
According to Jose, he created a fake online persona years later in 2010 after the couple broke up. He made friends with the sheriff on the gay dating websites “Manhunt” and “adam4adam.” For two weeks, he posed as “Matt” as he chatted with the sheriff, whose handle was allegedly “studboi1.”
Jose said “Matt” finally set a date with “studboi1” and claims he confronted Babeu when they met, telling him that the dating websites were dangerous to his career and admonished him for using them.
The sheriff said Saturday that Jose was a volunteer on his congressional campaign, and when their relationship failed, Babeu alleged Jose took control of his campaign’s social media websites and committed identity theft.
His attorney, Chris DeRose, contacted Jose and sent a cease and desist letter, DeRose said on Sunday.
Jose, in turn, contacted his own lawyer after feeling threatened by DeRose, Jose said. While he agreed to the terms of the letter and handed over usernames and passwords to the campaign, he denied that he tampered with the campaigns social media tools in the first place, Jose said.
In the CNN interview, he admitted to making negative comments on stories about the sheriff posted online by the local newspaper, the Chino Valley Review. Jose said those comments came to Babeu’s attention, and then Babe’s lawyer reportedly asked him to sign a non-disclosure agreement. That’s when Jose said he sought legal help.
DeRose, however, told CNN he never threatened deportation or raised an issue with his legal status.
Babeu has appeared alongside Romney on the campaign trail, and alongside McCain in a pro-immigration television advertisement which McCain aired during his tough primary campaign in 2010. Babeu also spoke earlier this month at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul also issued a statement to CNN on Saturday.
“Sheriff Babeu has stepped down from his volunteer position with the campaign so he can focus on the allegations against him,” Saul said. “We support his decision.”
The sheriff said he called the Romney campaign to offer his resignation, and said he was not asked nor pressured to resign.
On Sunday, McCain described Babeu as a friend, adding he didn’t know any more details than what has been reported in the media.
“All I can say is that he also deserves the benefit, as every citizen does, of innocence until proven guilty,” McCain said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But I appreciate the support that he gave me in my campaign and always will.”
(By Miguel Marquez, CNN Correspondent, CNN’s Gregory Wallace and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.)