Anton Lazzaro, who's been accused of conspiring to recruit and solicit minor victims to engage in commercial sex acts, has denied the charges against him.
A number of Republicans have been largely silent so far about donations they received from a Minnesota Republican operative and major GOP donor who was arrested on federal sex trafficking charges Thursday.
According to the Justice Department, Anton Lazzaro was arrested by FBI agents on charges of conspiring with others to recruit and solicit six minor victims to engage in commercial sex acts. An attorney for Lazzaro, a former Republican campaign manager who has donated nearly $200,000 to Republicans, denied the charges against him.
Lazzaro is also the founder, director, and principal funder of Big Tent Republicans PAC, which aims to "[broaden] the base and appeal of the Republican Party to a new and diverse generation of Americans."
Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, the state's Democratic Party committee, on Thursday called for "each and every elected official, candidate, and organization that received a cent from this predator to donate those funds to an anti-trafficking organization."
Some recipients have already said they will divest the funds.
In a statement on Friday, Jennifer Carnahan, chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota, said her party "will be donating the contributions that Mr. Lazzaro has given our organization to charity." That would include at least $21,178 in contributions to the party's federal account and thousands more to its state account.
Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) told Minnesota Public Radio that he would split the more than $13,000 he received from Lazzaro between two Minnesota domestic violence shelters.
State Sen. Karin Housley (R) and GOP attorney general candidate Doug Wardlow both told the network they would give the donations they received from Lazzaro to an anti-human trafficking nonprofit.
In an email, a spokesperson for Rep. Young Kim (R-CA) told The American Independent Foundation that she plans to donate the $2,800 she received from Big Tent Republicans PAC to a California-based mental health and child welfare nonprofit.
And a spokesperson for Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA) said she "is disgusted and disturbed by these allegations and as soon as she learned of them she immediately donated the funds to a local shelter that supports at-risk children and abused youth." She had received $2,800 from Big Tent Republicans PAC.
Still, others have been mum so far on their plans.
The American Independent Foundation reached out to the following candidates and committees who received significant contributions from Lazzaro or his PAC, but have not yet received responses on what they plan to do with their donations:
- Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-MN) received at least $16,800 from Lazzaro, plus $4,200 to his MAGADorn leadership PAC and $10,000 to his Hagedorn Victory Fund joint fundraising committee.
- National Republican Congressional Committee received at least $10,000 from Lazzaro.
- Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN) received at least $8,000 from Lazzaro.
- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), received at least $1,000 from Lazzaro, plus $1,000 to his Graham Victory 2020 joint fundraising committee.
- Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-NM) received at least $250 from Lazzaro and $2,800 from Big Tent Republicans PAC.
A spokesperson for Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who received at least $5,600 from Lazzaro, responded to the American Independent Foundation on Friday afternoon. Asked whether the senator planned to donate the funds to charity, the spokesperson stated simply, "Yes she does."
Big Tent Republicans PAC also did not immediately respond to questions about whether it would refund its founder's nearly $40,000 worth of donations.
The charges against Lazzaro were laid out in an indictment on Thursday afternoon, during a court hearing in St. Paul, Minnesota.
According to the indictment, Lazzaro, who was arrested in Minneapolis earlier Thursday morning, is facing one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, as well as five counts of sex trafficking of minors. He also faces one count of "attempted sex trafficking of a minor," as well as three more counts of obstruction related to the investigation into his alleged acts.
A second individual was listed as a "co-conspirator" but according to the Daily Beast has not yet been arrested.
Lazzaro has vehemently denied all the allegations. In July, he threatened to sue a Daily Beast reporter, and denied any wrongdoing, suggesting information on the case being built against him was baseless.
"There's nothing to this case. It's not some Matt Gaetz or whatever you think this is," he reportedly said.
This story was updated with additional comments from a spokesperson for Sen. Susan Collins.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.