Sheriff Babeu cleared in 2012 election inquiry

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Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu By Catherine Holland Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu By Catherine Holland

FLORENCE, Ariz. (AP) -- An investigation found that Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu did not his job to influence employees and others during his 2012 re-election campaign, officials said Tuesday.

Babeu was accused of violating the Hatch Act, which limits partisan political activities for employees of a state or county executive agency. The investigation by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel stemmed from Babeu appearing in uniform at events when he was running for Congress and then for sheriff. He was also accused of coercing lower-ranking employees to campaign for Chief Deputy Steve Henry.

"The charges were politically motivated and I'm glad they have completely cleared me, just as I knew they would," Babeu said in a released statement.

The Pinal County Sheriff's Office said that officials were notified June 30 that the federal investigative agency was closing its two-year inquiry.

Nick Schwellenbach, a spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel, declined to comment.

The Hatch Act makes exceptions for those whose primary employment is an elected office, according to the letter from the agency. Elected officials such as sheriffs are not prohibited from campaigning while in uniform, agency attorney Treyer Mason-Gale wrote.

Investigators also determined that campaign material was erroneously posted on the sheriff's office website by workers who were not under Babeu's supervision. There was no evidence the postings came at Babeu's request. He was also cleared of allegations that he had offered people positions in his office in exchange for supporting Henry, who had hoped to succeed his boss.

Henry said the allegations wouldn't be an issue now, as demonstrated by the Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012. The revisions allow for most state and local government employees to run for partisan political office.

"It took 2 1/2 years to reach the reported conclusion and thousands of dollars were spent, this was a monumental waste of time and resources," Henry said.

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