ROCHESTER, Minn. — Congressman Jim Hagedorn said Friday, Aug. 13, that he intends to donate to charities in southern Minnesota money that he received from a Minnesota political operative indicted on child sex trafficking charges.
The Republican congressman's statement came a day after Anton J. Lazzaro was indicted by a federal grand jury in Minnesota. Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office say Lazzaro, 30, conspired with others to recruit and solicit people younger than 18 to engage in commercial sex between May and December of 2020.
It also comes a day after Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin called on Republican elected officials and organizations, from Hagedorn, Rep. Tom Emmer and Rep. Michelle Fischbach to the Minnesota Republican Party and the Log Cabin Republicans, to "denounce and disavow" Lazarro and donate funds received from him to anti-trafficking organizations.
"It is extremely disturbing that a man arrested for sexually trafficking six minors has such deep ties to so many Minnesota Republican officials, candidates and organizations, particularly Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan and her husband, Congressman Hagedorn," Martin said in a statement Thursday.
Hagedorn received $31,000 in financial contributions from Lazzaro, the largest amount given to any other GOP elected official or political organization, Martin said. Hagedorn and Carnahan also appear with Lazzaro in pictures taken at Minnesota Vikings games. The pictures had been posted to Hagedorn's Facebook page.
In his statement, Hagedorn, a two-term congressman representing the state's 1st District, called the charges "deeply troubling."
"No one should be a victim of sex trafficking. Every citizen has the right to present a defense in court to refute charges. But should these serious allegations lead to conviction, we expect the imposition of the strictest punishments under our judicial system," Hagedorn said.
Hagedorn said he plans to give the money received from Lazzaro to charities that serve the victims of trafficking and domestic abuse.
"It is critical that victims receive all necessary support and resources. Further, this incident highlights the need to support the men and women of law enforcement, who work diligently to protect citizens and bring justice to victims," he said.
Lazzaro is being held in the Sherburne County Jail. His defense attorney says that he is falsely accused.
Since 2014, Lazzaro has contributed more than $78,000 at the state level, much of which went to the Minnesota Republican party, but also to top candidates for office. On the federal level, his nearly $36,000 in donations over the same period went monthly to Hagedorn or political organizations aligned with him.
GOP donor’s indictment poses problem for party leader
Minnesota Republican Party officials were set to hold an emergency meeting Friday night, Aug. 13, after an indictment of a prominent donor and close ally of the state GOP chair sent shockwaves through the party.
The private meeting of the party’s Executive Committee could put Jennifer Carnahan’s status in jeopardy. At a minimum, some on the steering panel want a full independent examination of the party’s finances. Removal of Carnahan from her job would take a two-thirds vote, according to the party constitution.
Multiple people who have worked for or closely with the Republican Party told MPR News that Lazzaro and Carnahan have been close friends for years, traveling often and working the party circuit. He is also a top donor to Carnahan’s husband, Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn. Lazzaro was part of a select group of invitees to the couple’s California wedding, according to sources and photos.
“If the allegations against Mr. Anton Lazzaro are true, this is an abhorrent act that we condemn in the highest possible terms,” Carnahan said in a statement, pledging to turn over donations he made to the organization to charity. "Sex trafficking is a heinous act that preys on victims of all ages, races, and backgrounds, and warrants severe punishment by our judicial system. A full investigation is necessary to ensure due process is provided to all parties involved."
People who discussed Lazzaro’s party ties on the condition they not be identified by name said he was a go-to donor for Carnahan. He helped her win her job as party chair in 2017, both as a volunteer and a financial contributor.
— MPR News reporters Brian Bakst and Matt Sepic