The chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Party is being sued for defamation after he essentially accused a Latino voter-outreach group of voter fraud.
Maricopa County GOP chairman A.J. LaFaro accused the group Citizens for a Better Arizona (CBA) of "stuffing the ballot box" at the county election headquarters, and alleged that they fill out voters' ballots for them. Additionally, he called one of CBA's workers, Ben Marin, a "violent thug."
Local attorney Alexander Kolodin, who's representing Marin and CBA in this lawsuit, tells New Times the things LaFaro said about Marin were "not only untrue but really virulent."
LaFaro implied the voter fraud took place when Marin dropped off a stack of early-voting ballots at the county election headquarters. It's a completely legal process CBA has utilized for several years -- when one of the group's canvassers speaks to a voter who requested and completed an early-voting ballot, but didn't mail it back, the canvasser will volunteer to bring it to the county election headquarters. Back in 2012, for example, CBA dropped off a couple hundred early ballots amid the successful recall of then-Senate President Russell Pearce.
After spotting Marin with the stack of ballots at the county election headquarters, LaFaro wrote his side of the story on a right-wing blog, under the title, "Voter Fraud in Arizona's 2014 Election? You be the Judge."
Citizens for a Better Arizona demanded an apology from LaFaro, after his accusations went viral online, and led to Marin and others in the group receiving death threats from across the country. After demanding, but not getting an apology out of LaFaro, the group has now filed the defamation lawsuit.
"First, we want damages for his negatively impacted career prospects," Kolodin says. Google searches for Marin's name bring up conservative blogs echoing LaFaro's claims of Marin being a "violent thug." LaFaro called Marin that after LaFaro confronted him at the county election headquarters, and LaFaro alleges that Marin used colorful language in telling LaFaro to leave him alone. Marin has denied using such language, but even if he did, does it warrant LaFaro calling him "a vulgar, disrespectful, violent thug who has no respect for our laws"?
"Then the other aspect of damages is the damages for the mental anguish he's going through," Kolodin says. "He's gotten death threats -- he fears for his life."
Ramiro Luna, an organizer for CBA, says they believe LaFaro only caused a stink about this issue to harm the work of the group.
"We feel that it was a very malicious and strategic plan of his," Luna says.
In addition to LaFaro's claims being totally debunked, including being debunked by some of the most strongly Republican politicians in the county, the confrontation actually took place before the primary election, yet LaFaro's account and the accompanying video were only released in the days leading up to the general election.
"If he was legitimately concerned, he would have called us or released [the video] immediately," Luna says.
We e-mailed LaFaro yesterday seeking comment, but did not receive a response.
However, LaFaro did issue a general response to CBA's side of the story in news briefs sent out to members of the Maricopa County Republican Committee. LaFaro's statement said, in part:
"Today, Randy Parazz with Citizens for A Better Arizona (CBA) called for my apology and resignation as Chairman of the Maricopa County GOP due to the fact that I had the courage to expose CBA's ballot harvesting practices to the world. Once again, Mr. Parraz is attempting to shift attention away from his group and their questionable practices while attacking a conservative.According to Luna, LaFaro's statements appear to have been taken as true by some people in the community. Police have been called on CBA canvassers, landing one in the back of a cop car while things were cleared up.
"I find CBA's press release to be hypocritical, baseless and without merit. If anyone should be apologizing, it should be Mr. Marin to me for his vicious and vulgar verbal attack while he was stuffing a polling place receptacle with ballots."
See the complaint below:
Got a tip? Send it to: Matthew Hendley.