PONTIAC, Mich. (CN) — A decorated military veteran running for Congress in Michigan sued his fellow Republican rival for defamation this week, claiming he called his military record, which includes two Bronze Stars, “fraudulent and fake.”
Former Congressman Kerry Bentivolio sued Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski in Oakland County Court, claiming the defamatory statements are harming his candidacy and “his stature as a public figure and moral conservative.”
Bentivolio also says Raczkowski has represented himself as an attorney though he never passed the Michigan Bar exam.
Represented by Southfield attorney Deborah Schlussel, Bentivolio seeks damages for a single count of defamation. He served one term in Congress in the same suburban Detroit district, the 11th, from 2013-2015.
Schlussel called Raczowski’s alleged statements “disgusting and despicable.”
She said the $100 million demand for damages in the complaint is a typo, and will be amended to request $10 million in damages.
“In political campaigns people have opinions, and everyone is entitled to an opinion,” Schlussel said Wednesday. “The fact is that Kerry Bentiviolio served with honor and heroism in both Vietnam and Iraq and he earned every single one his 27 medals and honors.”
Bentiviolio said Raczowski’s attacks began six years ago, before Bentivolio became a congressman. He had given his opponent a copy of his military record, or DD214 certificate, which is posted on his campaign website.
“Don’t mess with my military career,” Bentivolio said in an interview. “Those things are a matter of record.
“This is the last straw. You want to accuse me of something that’s not in my record? Here’s my record.”
Bill Belcher, a spokesman for Raczkowski, called the lawsuit frivolous and said the candidate would answer it in court. He said Raczkowski did not pretend to be a lawyer.
“He did graduate from law school, but he’s never said he’s an attorney,” Belcher said in an interview.
Raczkowski did not respond to requests for comment.
Bentivolio served in Vietnam as an infantry rifleman, in the Army National Guard as a reservist, and in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. He retired from the Army with two Bronze Stars as a sergeant first class after suffering a neck injury and suspected heart attack, according to his complaint.
Raczkowski, who also served in the Army reserves, and as a state representative, told fellow Republican activists and blogger Kenneth Crow that Bentiviolio faked his disability as well as his military record, the complaint states.
Bentiviolio says Raczkowski made the comments on local radio and at public events where people overheard him.
“Over the last several years and to date, Raczkowski has engaged in a malicious defamation campaign against Bentivolio, telling multiple third parties that Bentivolio military record is fraudulent and fake, that he is not disabled, and that he did not earn his military medals and awards and that they are fake,” the complaint states.
Raczkowski rejected two letters from Bentivolio demanding retractions, according to the lawsuit.
Raczkowski and Bentivolio are running to replace Congressman Dave Trott, who is resigning after serving two terms. He too is Republican.