Pinal County, Ariz. Sheriff Paul Babeu, a Republican congressional candidate, stepped down on Saturday from his position as the Mitt Romney campaign's Arizona co-chair, in the wake of explosive allegations that Babeu threatened a Mexican man, who claims to be his ex-boyfriend, with deportation.
"Sheriff Babeu has stepped down from his volunteer position with the campaign so he can focus on the allegations against him," Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul confirmed in an email to The Huffington Post. "We support his decision."
In a press conference on Saturday, Babeu said the allegations are false but confirmed that he is gay, something he had not previously discussed.
The Phoenix New-Times broke the story about the man, referring to him only by his first name, Jose.
Babeu is both a staunch Republican and a hawk on border security -- making the allegations all the more surprising and potentially damaging. News about Babeu could also prove damaging to the Romney campaign ahead of the state's Feb. 28 Republican presidential primary.
Jose told the New-Times that Charlie DeRose, Babeu's lawyer and campaign manager, threatened to push for his deportation if he disclosed his relationship with Babeu.
A 34-year-old from Mexico, Jose provided the New-Times with a photo that showed him with Babeu; the photo appeared on the newspaper's website, with Jose's face blurred out. Jose said that while working for the Babeu campaign on its social media and website, he and Babeu began an affair, which ended badly after he suspected that Babeu was cheating on him. DeRose then asked for the passwords to Babeu's accounts and asked Jose to sign a legal document stating that he would not speak of the relationship, according to Jose's account in the paper.
Jose said that DeRose had also claimed, incorrectly, that he had an expired visa and could be deported, according to the paper. Jose's attorney, Melissa Weiss-Riner, confirmed his account to the New-Times and the Arizona Republic.
Babeu denied at the Saturday press conference that he had believed Jose was in the country without legal status, Talking Points Memo reported. "I don't have the authority to deport anyone," Babeu said.
"I never believed [Jose] was less legal than you or I was," Babeu said. "Everything that I understand is that he's absolutely in legal status."
DeRose told the New-Times that he "never threatened to deport anybody" and that Babeu is "not threatening anybody." He and Babeu told the Arizona Republic that Jose had accessed the candidate's website without permission to post offensive content and they provided the paper with a cease-and-desist letter telling Jose to stop doing so.
Babeu also told the Republic that text messages and photos provided to the New-Times were a private issue that he would not discuss, declining to comment on their authenticity. He and DeRose said that Jose may have been provided with small sums of money for his campaign work, but otherwise was not given money.
"This [story] is not going to make a bit of difference" to voters, DeRose told the paper. "My personal life is exactly that," Babeu added.
Watch a video below from MyFoxPHOENIX.com about the accusations.
This story was updated to provide more details about the Saturday press conference.