Minnesota GOP chair faces calls to resign after friend and donor arrested for sex trafficking

Anton "Tony" Lazzaro was taken into custody Thursday by FBI agents on charges of sex trafficking minors.

Left: Anton Lazzaro mugshot/Sherburne County Jail. Right: Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan talks with reporters. (Minnesota GOP/Instagram)

Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan faced calls to resign Friday because of her mismanagement of the party and close friendship with a donor who was arrested Thursday for child sex trafficking.

Anton “Tony” Lazzaro was taken into custody Thursday by FBI agents and charged with one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, five counts of sex trafficking of minors, one count of attempted sex trafficking of a minor, and three counts of obstruction.

An indictment unsealed in federal court Thursday accuses Lazzaro of conspiring with others to recruit and solicit six minor victims for commercial sex acts between May and December of last year. The name of his alleged co-conspirator is redacted in the indictment.

The 15-member executive committee of the GOP was scheduled to meet Friday night to discuss what to do with Lazzaro’s $42,000 in donations to the party. David Pascoe, party secretary, announced on Twitter that he planned to make a motion for a financial review to “make sure we’re aware of all of Tony’s contributions/involvement over the past few years.”

Many Republican candidates and causes announced throughout the day Friday that they planned to donate the money they received from Lazzaro to charity, including Minnesota Sen. Karin Housley, U.S. Reps. Tom Emmer and Jim Hagedorn, Doug Wardlow, Kendall Qualls, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, Freedom Club, and others.

Lazzaro appears to be a close friend of Carnahan and was among “a few dozen” people who attended her marriage to Congressman Hagedorn, according to Fox 9. Their report claims Lazzaro played a minor role in the party until Carnahan’s elevation to chair. Lazzaro served as the campaign manager for Republican Lacy Johnson’s bid against Rep. Ilhan Omar last year.

He also co-hosted a podcast with Carnahan and was pictured at a Vikings game with her and her husband.

As Alpha News reported in April, Carnahan was accused by several current and past committee members of creating a toxic culture of fear and intimidation while mismanaging the party’s finances.

Just a couple days after the Alpha News report, Carnahan was easily reelected to a third term over Sen. Mark Koran, who promised “leadership without drama.”

Some are now calling on the executive committee to remove Carnahan as party chair, which would require a two-thirds vote, according to the party’s constitution. The vote would then need to be affirmed by a simple majority of those present at the next meeting of the state central committee.

Others would like to see Carnahan resign, including Sen. Roger Chamberlain, the first Republican lawmaker to call for her resignation.

“MNGOP 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. I find it impossible to believe she didn’t know about his activities,” he said.

Kelly Fenton, a former state representative who was deputy chair of the party from 2011 to 2013, issued a similar call.

“[Carnahan] is a liability to our Party and anyone running under our banner. Those actively engaged should call for her to step aside so new leadership can clean it up and focus on winning,” she said.

Dustin Grage, a political strategist who has served in various roles with the party, called for Carnahan’s “immediate resignation.”

“Unfortunately I do not see a future in which the MNGOP can be effective under Carnahan’s leadership,” he said in a Twitter thread.

Brian Lewis said he “will never be giving a second of my time to helping this state party ever again so long as Carnahan remains chair.” Lewis said he devoted hours of his time to door-knocking for President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and several other candidates.

“The Senate will be electing new leadership soon. It is time to clean house all across the MNGOP.  Several leaders need to go. It is time to shift gears and refocus. We must rebuild a unified and ethical front,” added Rep. Jeremy Munson.

Carnahan responded to the allegations in a statement Friday morning and said the party plans to donate the contributions from Lazzaro.

“If the allegations against Mr. Anton Lazzaro are true, this is an abhorrent act that we condemn in the highest possible terms,” she said.

Authorities seized Lazzaro’s $900,000 downtown Minneapolis condo in December, along with $370,000 in cash, a 2010 Ferrari convertible, 12 cellphones, and six computers, according to the indictment.

Lazzaro is scheduled to make his next court appearance Monday and remains jailed.