Minnesota political activists volley lawsuits in fallout over GOP donor’s sex trafficking indictment

Two prominent Minnesota political activists volleyed lawsuits back and forth this week, the latest development in the messy fallout over GOP donor Anton Lazzaro’s indictment on child sex trafficking charges.

Republican operative William Grant is suing independent journalist Rebecca Brannon and DFL strategist Justin Perpich, claiming they defamed him with remarks on Twitter tying him to Lazzaro.

In response, Perpich filed a countersuit Wednesday, alleging Grant is trying to silence him “with respect to a matter of substantial public concern.”

“If the case proceeds, we’re salivating at the thought of getting all of the e-mails, text messages and recordings,” said Perpich’s attorney, Chris Madel. “Billy Grant is going to be sorry he sued Justin Perpich.”

The drama began last month when the FBI arrested Lazzaro, 30, on charges he recruited minors, groomed them with expensive gifts, paid them for sex and attempted to buy their silence.

Lazzaro’s political ties sent a shock wave through the state’s Republican Party and led to the resignation of GOP chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan, who co-hosted a podcast with Lazzaro.

When the charges went public, Brannon — who describes herself as a cinematographer and independent journalist — began tweeting about Lazzaro’s ties to Republican Party members.

“Top aides Billy Grant & Spencer Krier, closely associated with Lazzaro, have a well deserved reputation among former employees and activists as Carnahan’s ‘henchmen,’ ” she wrote in one post.

In another tweet, Brannon wrote: “A former employee described how Grant called another young former employee, threatening, ‘I’ll break your legs’ if the young individual did not delete a Twitter page with anti Carnahan messages …”

Perpich retweeted Brannon and in one post tagged Grant, saying, “You have to wonder how many people knew about this and swept it under the rug.”

In his suit, Grant called the allegations “false” and “defamatory,” and said prospective clients have indicated “they either no longer support [him] or may no longer support him in the future.” A friend texted him saying he had “sold out pretty hard” and asking how “can you think threatening people is ever ok.”

In the countersuit, Perpich’s lawyers say that Grant is a friend of Lazzaro’s and point to his appearance on Lazzaro and Carnahan’s podcast, in which both say they have worked with Grant.

“Now we’ve got one of our friends — friends with both of us — Billy Grant on the phone,” Carnahan says on the podcast.

After Lazzaro’s indictment, Grant published a statement calling the charges “atrocious, despicable and criminal,” which Perpich’s suit describes as “doing his level best to distance himself from his own past.”

In a statement, Perpich said he believes evidence will show that Grant knew Lazzaro was producing pornography in his apartment using the moniker “Tiny Teens,” and that Carnahan “caused alleged victims of sexual harassment to sign nondisclosure agreements.”

“Billy Grant wasn’t defamed because of my tweets,” said Perpich. “Billy Grant is held in low regard because of his friendship with persons who have perpetrated bad acts, and, indeed criminal acts. No lawsuit can change that.”

Brannon’s attorney, Howard Root, said she hadn’t yet been served with the suit, “but we have seen the complaint and I would call it ridiculous in one word.”

Said Grant’s attorney, Daniel Moak: “The complaint that’s been filed speaks for itself and we would just respect the judicial process as it plays out.”

Staff writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.

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