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EXCLUSIVE: Ex-boyfriend sues Minnesota Rep. Mary Franson for defamation

by Mike McFeely

The nastiness has re-ignited between Minnesota state Rep. Mary Franson of Alexandria and the former chairman of the McLeod County Republican Party.

Eric Harpel, Franson's ex-boyfriend, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Franson in Douglas County District Court for falsely accusing him of stalking, threatening and spying on her. The lawsuit also accuses Franson of illegally hacking Harpel's e-mail account and failing to pay back money Harpel says he loaned Franson to pay her mortgage and other expenses.

"In 2012 Ms. Franson made statements about me in a petition for a harassment restraining order," Harpel said in a statement he e-mailed to me. "The statements deeply harmed my family's long standing and very highly regarded reputation. After I filed my pleadings contesting her claims Ms. Franson dismissed her petition, denying me an opportunity to defend and exonerate myself. I have made several good faith attempts to resolve this matter privately but those attempts have been unsuccessful. On the advice of my attorney I have now started a defamation lawsuit against Ms. Franson. The Complaint sets forth my claim in detail and is on file with the Douglas County Court. I look forward to finally having the opportunity to share my version of the events."

Harpel is seeking damages in excess of $50,000.

Rep. Mary Franson

When asked for a response, Franson e-mailed the following statement to me: "Given the fact that Mr. Harpel and I ended our relationship years ago, my children and I deserve to live free of the anxiety Mr. Harpel brings into our lives. It should be noted that Im not the only person Mr. Harpel has tried to intimidate through the court system. In February, a judge dismissed a lawsuit Mr. Harpel had filed in September against a retired woman in McLeod County. Im optimistic well have a similar result in this case."

Franson's reference to a dismissed lawsuit refers to a suit filed by Harpel against Marie Thurn, a former McLeod County GOP officer. Thurn and another McLeod County Republican officer resigned their positions in 2012, questioning Harpel's integrity.

Harpel's suit against Franson stems from a 2012 restraining order Franson filed against Harpel. Court documents say the two began dating in August 2010 and broke up in January 2012. Franson claimed Harpel "stalked" her, made threats and sent "lewd" e-mails after the break-up. According to the lawsuit filed, Franson also accused Harpel of "preying on her daughter."

According to the defamation portion of the lawsuit, Harpel claims: "Mary Franson told friends, relatives, her professional associates and professional associates of Eric Harpel that Eric Harpel had stalked her both in person and on line, that he had threatened her, that he had sent her unwelcome 'lewd' emails, that he spied on her, that he falsely accused her of 'lewd behavior,' that he traveled to her apartment after she had told he was not welcome, that he was preying on her daughter, and that he was so jealous that he would physically harm her and ruin her reputation." Harpel denies the claims.

"As a direct result of Franson's false and defamatory statements, Eric Harpel's reputation has been harmed, he has been humiliated and embarrassed, and he has otherwise suffered financially and emotionally," the lawsuit states.

Eric Harpel

Harpel also claims Franson hacked his e-mail account and deleted more than 50 e-mails. The suit says Franson admitted to Harpel she accessed and deleted his e-mails.

Harpel is also suing Franson for breach of contract, claiming he loaned Franson money in the form of "paying her mortgage and expenses for transportation, utilities, food and clothing." The lawsuit claims Franson agreed to repay the money.

The lawsuit also delves into more personal areas. According to the suit: "Between August 2011 and February 2012, Mary Franson sent Eric Harpel numerous text, voice, email, and chat messages concerning her depression, her suicide attempts, her abusive behavior, her erratic behavior, her use of antidepressants, her cutting herself and her unfounded concerns of being stalked."

It also says Franson conspired with others to harm Harpel's reputation and to prevent him from being elected chairman of the McLeod County Republican Party.

Franson's attorney, Douglas Hegg of Alexandria, denies Harpel's claims in papers filed with Douglas County District Court.

The timing of Harpel's lawsuit might be significant. District 8B Republicans are holding their nominating meeting this weekend and Franson faces a challenger. She is being challenged by Sue Nelson of Perham.

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on 790 KFGO-AM in Fargo-Moorhead. He can be heard 2-5 p.m. weekdays.)