(Originally published on Aug. 13, 2021)By Caroline Cummings

MINNESOTA (WCCO) – The executive committee of the Minnesota GOP will have an emergency meeting Friday night in wake of the allegations that a Republican donor “deeply involved” in party politics illegally trafficked minors for sex.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota said Anton Lazzaro, 30, has been arrested and indicted on federal sex trafficking charges for allegedly recruiting six minor victims to engage in commercial sex acts. Lazzaro’s attorney said his client is being falsely accused.

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Since the court documents were made public Thursday, Lazzaro’s ties to the party and Republicans in elected office have sparked questions and prompted politicians on both sides of the aisle to condemn the allegations.

Lazzaro donated tens of thousands to Republican candidates and party units, state and federal campaign finance records show, including at least $42,000 to the Minnesota GOP; $15,600 to U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, who is the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee; and $21,000 to U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn.

Several Republicans—including Emmer, Hagedorn and others in the legislature like House Republican Leader Kurt Daudt—have since vowed to donate to charity the contributions Lazzaro made to their campaigns or political action committee in recent years.

Jennifer Carnahan, the chair of the Minnesota GOP, said in a statement that the party would do the same.

“If the allegations against Mr. Anton Lazzaro are true, this is an abhorrent act that we condemn in the highest possible terms,” Carnahan said. “The Republican Party of Minnesota will be donating the contributions that Mr. Lazzaro has given our organization to charity.”

Two party officials told WCCO that Carnahan called an emergency meeting of the state executive board for Friday night, offering no details other than asking that they attend by Zoom.

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Members of the board said they believed the meeting is to discuss Lazzaro and what was described as “deep” involvement in the party. Some of them are seeking an audit of the party’s finances.

David Schultz, a professor at Hamline University who is an expert on election law, said if Republicans’ goal is to root out any money donated by Lazzaro, it will be difficult as funds can transfer between political units and donations can be “hard to trace after a while.”

“If all this is true, you’re looking at what most people would say is incredibly dirty money at this point. And even though they might have unwittingly taken this money, not knowing the fact of what somebody is involved in—it is dirty money,” he said. “They have to find a way to disassociate themselves from him and all the money he’s given them.”

Hagedorn, who is married to Carnahan, posted a photo in 2017 on social media of him at a Vikings game with Carnahan and Lazzaro.

Carnahan and Lazzaro hosted a podcast together in 2019 and early 2020. The party chairwoman made no mention of any personal connection to Lazzaro in her statement.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) called for Carnahan to step down in regards to her connection to Lazzaro Friday night.

“Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan must resign immediately. The charges against Anton Lazzaro of sex trafficking minors are deeply disturbing, disgusting, and repulsive, and Carnahan’s close, ongoing relationship with him is troubling to say the least,” said Chamberlain. “I find it impossible to believe she didn’t know about his activities.”

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Hagedorn’s campaign could not be reached for comment Friday but MPR reported that Hagedorn is also donating campaign contributions from Lazzaro to charity.

Caroline Cummings