The recent deaths of Tempe’s Butwin family, found shot to death west of Casa Grande, is a tragedy.
Within hours of the discovery of the five bodies in their burned out car, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu had many believing there’d been a mass murder perpetrated by Mexican drug cartels.
An anonymous U.S. Border agent reportedly told the media the dead bodies were linked to the Los Zetas cartel. The sheriff’s office said it had reports of five people who were headed to Pinal County to conduct illegal activities and were now missing. These claims fueled a media firestorm even though all the facts weren’t in. It was like old times for Babeu. He was back in the limelight. The former media darling fell from grace earlier this year after it was reported he was involved romantically with an alleged illegal alien, was posting semi-nude pictures of himself on a “hook-up” website and after state and federal investigations opened after allegations of abuse of power and campaign law violations were made against him.
Babeu’s troubles didn’t end there. In May, the sheriff became the focus of a newspaper report questioning his procurement of $7 million dollars worth of federal surplus property and how he planned to use and dispose of it, possibly in violation of federal law.
Babeu’s image rose to prominence after the highly spun April 2010 purported gun battle between Pinal County deputy sheriff Louie Puroll and machine gun toting drug smugglers. Since then we’ve watched the self-promoting Babeu preach about the dangers of western Pinal County, known as the Vekol Valley and how he’s the man to save us from the cartels.
After Puroll, Babeu claimed he was “green lighted” for assassination by the cartels. He spoke about the coming gun battles between his deputies and cartels that would play out in the Vekol Valley. At a Babeu-hosted news conference covered by CNN, Puroll described the dreaded Vekol Valley area as more dangerous than Afghanistan.
Babeu was everywhere talking about drugs and illegal aliens. His tough talk allowed him to hitch his wagon to prominent politicians thus gaining instant political credibility even though he was a rookie first term sheriff with only a couple years of actual police experience as a patrolman in an upscale urban suburb.
He even cozied up to veteran Arizona sheriffs and gained needed law enforcement credibility.
Babeu’s power soon extended into the Arizona State Legislature that threw money at him while they gutted the budget of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Babeu was shaping statewide law enforcement policy in a way that benefited him and left many law enforcement agencies statewide struggling. The sheriff with the charm of a snake oil salesman had the legislature eating out of his hand.
Soon Babeu was running for Congress. He was on the political fast track. Some thought he was unstoppable.
Then his public indiscretions killed his chances for Washington and he decided to trump his loyal chief deputy’s planned run for sheriff and announced his intentions to keep his job.
The Butwin case put the focus back on Babeu. But this time the focus magnified the sheriff’s opportunism even when it involved the tragic loss of a family of five that had nothing to do with drug smuggling.
For the last couple of years we’ve been entertained by a steady stream of Babeu authored novellas that were great fiction and nothing more. Babeu hasn’t been assassinated, the Vekol Valley gun battles never happened and “hero” Puroll was fired for lying.
The Butwin family tragedy was Babeu’s latest yarn that didn’t end or happen like we were led to believe. A Sunday East Tribune poll had 83 percent of respondents saying Babeu put his foot in his mouth on this one.
We can thank Tempe police for telling us the truth.
One can only wonder: If it weren’t for Tempe detectives telling us what really happened to the Butwin family, would the truth not have been known until it was politically convenient for the troubled sheriff who is hoping for re-election?
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at email@example.com.