Ex-Mich. U.S. rep sues opponent over defamation
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the number of Republicans competing in the August primary for the right to run in the November election for the 11th Congressional District; and to correct the political affiliations under which Kerry Bentivolio has run for office.
Pontiac — A highly decorated candidate for the 11th Congressional District is suing a Republican opponent for allegedly conducting a “malicious defamation campaign” about his military record, including disputing his medals and injuries.
In the Oakland Circuit Court lawsuit, Kerry Bentivolio, a former Republican U.S. representative who represented the 11th District from 2013-15, seeks $10 million in damages from opponent Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski of Troy.
The lawsuit alleges Raczkowski has told others at political gatherings, including a candidate debate in Novi in January and a Michigan Trump Republicans event in Highland Township in September that Bentivolio’s military record and services are a “lie” and “made up” and that he “didn’t really earn his medals,” which are “fictitious” and “fake.”
“I think a great injustice has been done and I’m trying to get it corrected,” said Bentivolio, who said he is tired of having to explain himself to potential voters. “Call me reindeer farmer … whatever you want, but don’t attack my military record.”
Bentivolio is a reindeer rancher, a Santa Claus for hire and a former engineer and teacher. He and Raczkowski are among the 13 hopefuls — five Republicans, six Democrats and two independents – who are competing in the August primary and for the right to run in the November election for the 11th Congressional District. The district includes 25 communities in portions of northwest Wayne County and southwest Oakland County. Current U.S. Rep. David Trott, R-Birmingham, is not seeking re-election.
Raczkowski, a 26 1/2 year veteran who retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves, makes no apology for things he “may have said” about Bentivolio. He denies ever questioning his time in Vietnam but when talk came to medals, Raczckowski said there were some credibility problems.
“This lawsuit is frivolous, it has no merit and it’s attempting to make issues where there are none,” said Raczkowski. “I had a conversation with him in 2012, where he made some statements regarding his military medals. I challenged him on some of them and after that, I could never support him for office — ever. “I expect (the lawsuit) will be dismissed.”
Bentivolio of Milford Township said he earned 27 awards and medals for his military service including the Vietnam Campaign Medal with two Bronze Stars, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge.
Bentivolio retired from the U.S. Army as a Sergeant First Class after a neck injury in 2008. He said he enlisted in 1968 and served in Vietnam from 1970-71 as an infantry rifleman. He later served as a reservist in the Army National Guard for more than 20 years. He said he was deployed to Iraq in 2007 with an artillery unit as a senior human resources sergeant performing combat convoy missions.
While in Iraq he was evacuated due to a suspected heart attack and he injured his neck. An X-ray determined a hairline fracture in his neck and he spent 11 months in medical recovery. He said he is 70 percent disabled, according to a finding from the U.S. Veterans Administration.
Bentivolio’s lawsuit, assigned to Oakland Circuit Judge Hala Jarbou, claims he has written at least twice to Raczkowski requesting he retract his defamatory statements but has not received a desired response. Bentivolio said the statements have interfered with his candidacy and “his stature as a public figure and moral conservative.”
Bentivolio, who describes himself as a conservative Republican, has also run for office as an Independent.