A family video of Paul Babeu soon after he became headmaster at a boarding school for troubled teens proves he knew of the perverse and abusive discipline at the school.
Babeu, the sheriff of Pinal County and a native of North Adams, is running for Congress for the second time. He gained national notoriety when he won a seat on the North Adams City Council at the age of 18.
Babeu served as a Berkshire County commissioner and was headmaster of the DeSisto School in Stockbridge from 1998 to 2001. He also ran unsuccessfully against former state Sen. Andrea Nuciforo in 1996 and twice against former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III.
Since his election as Pinal County sheriff in 2008, he was named the 2011 Sheriff of the Year by the National Sheriff's Association, appeared alongside U.S. Sen. John McCain in his 2010 presidential bid's "Build the Danged Fence" television and Internet advertisements, and lent his voice to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in a 2012 robocall to Iowa voters and is cochairman of Romney's Arizona campaign committee.
When Babeu ran in 2012, he was accused by his Mexican lover of threatening to have him deported, an explosive tale first reported in New Times. The Republican sheriff ultimately couldn't escape the heat of the scandal and pulled himself out of the Congressional race in May 2012 and focused on his re-election as sheriff.
The story about the boarding school first was reported by ABC 15 News (KNXV-TV) in February 2012, about a month after the story about Babeu's lover. As reporter David Biscobing detailed, the DeSisto School in Massachusetts shut down in 2004 after failing to comply with state standards. Babeu worked there as headmaster and executive director from 1999 to 2001, during a time when the abuses documented by the state of Massachusetts were taking place. Babeu denied that he knew about practices discovered in an investigation of the school.
But in a family videotape from Christmas 1999 obtained by Biscobing and aired last week, Babeu can be heard discussing the same measures found to have put the about 60 DeSisto students at risk, in addition to being "excessively punitive." As the video makes clear, Babeu not only knew about the practices — he appears to have liked them.
In a November 2001 court motion, representatives of the Massachusetts Office of Child Care Safety ask a court to shut down the school's operations because of such abusive practices, in addition to improper restraining of students and allowing students to strip-search other students.
The video was released by Babeu's sister, Lucy Babeu, a longtime enemy of her brother's. Babeu writes her off as "mentally unstable" in a statement he gave Biscobing. As New Times also detailed in 2012, Lucy Babeu accuses her brother of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old DeSisto student. Sheriff Babeu denies the allegation, but former students interviewed by New Times writer Monica Alonzo in 2012 said there was no doubt the headmaster and student spent a lot of time together.
"Systematic psychological or physical abuse of defenseless children is reprehensible," Babeu's Congressional opponent, Democrat Tom O'Halleran, said in a statement. "Parents entrusted their children in the care of the school, and Paul Babeu was the headmaster. His responsibility was to protect those in his care and not look the other way while they were harmed, and as reported by the State of Massachusetts, dehumanized."
Sitting at a dining room table in a relaxed setting, Babeu explains to family members the harsh methods used by the boarding school, made up of about 40 percent special-needs children. Babeu gloats about how students were forced into Dickies-type farming outfits and sent to perform manual labor, were forced to hold hands, and made to sit in a corner every day for "weeks."
A. Micheal DeSisto, who founded the school in 1978, died in 2004. In a 2004 Boston Globe article, Frank McNear, the executive director who followed Babeu, claimed that neither cornering nor sending people to "the farm" were practices in use at the time.
"There were practices in the 1980s and early 1990s that are no longer done here," McNear told the Globe. "I don't even like to drag this stuff up again because it hasn't happened in a really long time."
Babeu's video disproves McNear's statement, as well.
Biscobing's damning report also notes that while Babeu's campaign website touts Babeu's "effectiveness in personnel management" at DeSisto, Massachusetts investigators found no evidence that background checks were completed of 17 of 27 staff members.
Babeu released the following statement to New Times last week about the video:
"This 16-year-old video of a family Christmas gathering shows nothing new. As the administrative head of the school, I had no responsibility over student discipline. I had no role in student affairs The school had a psychiatrist and six therapists in charge of student care and the teaching was supervised by another director. All this has been established and I was never directly or indirectly involved in any incident. I was never named or even interviewed in any lawsuit or complaint, which is common for a school for at-risk youth."