More trouble for Pinal County Sheriff?
When it rains, it pours. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu has had a rough year. Once upon a time, a county sheriff coming out as gay would have been a big deal. Now, that is the least of Babeu’s trials in this year of scandals for him, which began with allegations of abuse of power and threats to his former gay lover, and then continued with revelations of abuse of children taking place at a school he once ran.
Often, allegations of scandal, even in the absence of definitive proof, are enough to end political careers and aspirations. We still don’t know, for example, if the allegations about Herman Cain’s infidelity were true, but the allegations helped drive him from the race. Babeu ended his quest for Congress, after holding out for quite some time in the face of these allegations. (On the other hand, of course, there are some politicians who survive even with proof of wrongdoing or scandalous conduct, e.g., Charles Rangel, Gerry Studds.)
And now, as if the list of troubles for Babeu isn’t large enough, the Arizona Republic is claiming that the Sheriff’s office has another one to add to its list. But is it true?
The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office has collected millions of dollars’ worth of surplus military equipment that is intended for law-enforcement use and distributed some of the gear to non-police agencies while preparing to sell other property as a budget booster. Both practices are banned by the Pentagon.
According to records obtained by The Arizona Republic, in the past two years, Sheriff Paul Babeu’s office has received more than $7 million worth of Humvees, fire trucks, guns, defibrillators, barber chairs, underwear, thermal-imaging scopes, computers, motor scooters and other items through the Defense Logistics Agency, which provides the excess military property free to crime-fighting agencies.
[ . . . ]
Yet the Sheriff’s Office, which helps oversee the program in Arizona, has doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment that it never used to non-police agencies and a business, saying the items are merely on “loan” and might occasionally be used to assist deputies.
The rules also allow police to dispose of or sell some goods after at least one year of usage but strictly ban them from obtaining the hand-me-down equipment for the purpose of fundraising.
But internal e-mails obtained through public-records requests by The Republic show sheriff’s officials touting their ability to get products from the Defense Department at no cost and to fortify their finances by selling the goods at auction. In a budget presentation to Pinal County supervisors in March, Babeu said he intends to balance his budget in part by auctioning equipment procured from the military.
But then, the first comment in the comment thread appears to be from the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office itself, rebutting the Republic’s claim. It begins . . .
PCSO Response to the Arizona Republic’s Misleading Story Regarding the use of the Military’s 1033 Program
The Pinal County Sheriffâ€™s Office has been an active partner of the United States Military Defense Logistics Agency, â€œ1033 Programâ€ since August of 2010. Since that time period, our office has acquired over $7,000,000.00 worth of surplus and demilitarized equipment. According to the Department of Defense and Logistics the cost savings to tax payers alone in Pinal County during 2011 was $3,792,425.04.
The Pinal County Sheriffâ€™s Office has asked the Arizona Republic several times to complete a story regarding our tremendous success with the program as we wanted to inform the public. Each time the information was provided to the Arizona Republic they declined to write a story until today when this misleading story was posted . . .
The Republic, for its part, is certainly known to display editorial and political bias. On the other hand, it is a mainstream paper with its own reputation to protect.
Whatever the relative merits of this (or any other) story, this does raise an interesting broader point. When newspapers allege politician involvement in scandals, those politicians may have their careers destroyed. But newspapers, from the New York Times to the Washington Post and beyond, have been caught making things up and engaging in journalistic malfeasance numerous times, and they march merrily on. Perhaps that is because there is no one individual person at a newspaper to make the poster child for its failures.