The Potluck

Lazzaro scandal takes another turn

By: - September 8, 2021 8:26 pm

Anton Lazzaro, 30, has been charged with sex trafficking six minor girls.

The sex trafficking scandal embroiling the Minnesota Republican Party took another legal turn Wednesday when a Republican political consultant accused a DFL strategist of defamation for promoting tweets by a Republican activist that he said falsely connected him to the scandal.

William “Billy” Grant served, but did not file, a complaint against former 8th Congressional District DFL chair Justin Perpich, alleging he defamed Grant by falsely connecting him to Anton “Tony” Lazzaro, 30, a Republican donor and strategist recently charged with sex trafficking minors. 

Lazzaro’s arrest has roiled the state Republican party due to his association with former GOP Chair Jennifer Carnahan, who resigned a week after his arrest as the party scrambled to return $300,000 in donations from Lazzaro. Lazzaro has pleaded not guilty. 

Perpich responded by countersuing Grant, calling his complaint an attempt to intimidate and silence him on a matter of substantial public concern, and saying any statements he made were true or substantially true.

“Because Perpich will not be intimidated by Grant’s attempt to browbeat him, Perpich decided to file this lawsuit because he is unafraid of the publicity,” Perpich’s counterclaim and answer says.

Perpich’s attorney, Cassie Merrick, said he is looking forward to defending himself and bringing out the truth in court.

“Frankly if he didn’t want it to be made public, he shouldn’t have simply served a complaint on our client,” she said. “We’re very much looking forward to discovery should the case continue.”

In Minnesota, you can serve a complaint without filing it — it’s called pocket service — and then the two sides have one year to litigate the case privately. It can be a way to muzzle someone, Merrick said.

In his complaint, Grant accuses conservative social media journalist and provocateur Rebecca Brannon of publishing on Twitter numerous false, defamatory statements connecting him to Lazzaro and Carnahan. Grant accuses Perpich of retweeting or commenting on those tweets. Brannon is a former GOP activist who has said she distanced herself from the party after being harassed by Carnahan.

Grant worked on Doug Wardlow’s attorney general campaign, Rand Paul’s presidential campaign and was campaign manager for Carnahan’s 2019 re-election campaign for party chair. He joined Arsenal Media Group earlier this year and is working on Wardlow’s second attorney general run and two congressional campaigns.

In his complaint, Grant said he aspires to be one of the top political consultants in the country, and had a strong reputation until he was recently falsely accused and defamed by Perpich and Brannon. Grant said their actions have hurt his reputation and business, with donors and supporters of his clients threatening to withdraw their support. He seeks an injunction to stop them from making false, defamatory statements about him.

In his answer, Perpich said Grant had not yet even tried to serve Brannon and laid out connections between Grant and Lazzaro and Carnahan, many culled from social media. 

“Clearly, because Lazarro has now been arrested and indicted, Grant is doing his level best to

distance himself from his own past,” Perpich’s attorney wrote. Perpich, a legislative political organizer for the American Federation of Government Employees, seeks a declaratory judgment to vindicate his free speech rights. 

Lazzaro was arrested last month and ordered to remain detained at the Sherburne County Jail until his trial, which is scheduled for Oct. 18. 

 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.

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