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Sheriff admits he's gay amid allegations

FLORENCE, Ariz. -- Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu resigned from presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's Arizona committee and acknowledged he was gay amid allegations of misconduct made by a man with whom he previously had a relationship.

Babeu, vowing to continue his bid for the GOP nomination in the rural 4th Congressional District, denied claims he tried to threaten the man, a Mexican immigrant and a former campaign volunteer, with deportation if their past relationship was made public. The man's allegations were first published Friday in the Phoenix New Times, an alternative weekly magazine.

Babeu, a first-term sheriff who gained widespread attention with his strong opposition to illegal immigration and smuggling, said the accusations were an attempt to hurt his political career. He said he had called Romney's staff to say he would step down from his post as state campaign co-chairman.

"This whole rumor, this whole idea of who I am in my private life has been shopped around," Babeu said in a news conference Saturday in front of his sheriff's office. "This was a way, the hook, of how this could be brought out, and to malign and attack a sheriff who does stand for conservative principals, who does enforce the law."

The man's lawyer, Melissa Weiss-Riner, issued a statement saying he retained her firm's services because he was contacted by Babeu's attorney and "felt intimidated."

"Jose continues to live in fear, and is currently in the process of moving again," she said.

Earlier, Weiss-Riner told the New Times that Babeu's attorney and campaign consultant falsely told her client his visa had expired. Babeu told reporters he believed the man, identified only by his first name, was living in the country legally.

The New Times posted a photo provided by the man of the two embracing. It also posted a cellphone self-portrait of what appears to be the shirtless sheriff, posted on a gay dating website. The man provided the magazine with photos of himself and Babeu and text messages between the two. Babeu didn't deny their authenticity.

Babeu issued a sweeping denial of any wrongdoing. He also said he didn't have the power as a local sheriff to get anyone deported. He said his relationship with Jose ended sometime before September. Jose also ran his campaign website and Twitter account, and Babeu said he began posting derogatory items on the sites after their breakup.

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