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Records link GOP activist to illegal robo-calls

BRANDON (AP) — Phone, Internet and credit card records connect Daniel Willard to a phone that generated illegal robocalls attacking South Dakota Republican leaders before the 2012 election, a prosecutor said during the trial of the GOP activist.

Willard's lawyer said Tuesday there is no evidence that Willard used the card, and that Internet addresses such as the one connected to Willard could be used by others.

Willard, who has clashed in the past with leaders in his own party, is on trial in Madison accused of violating South Dakota election law because the robocalls did not have required disclaimers about who paid for the calls and how they could be contacted.

Willard has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges that stem from several robocalls sent last September attacking Republican leaders in the state Legislature for failing to support veterans. The calls said they were "paid for by Veterans Against Unethical Politicians." There is no record of that group with the South Dakota Secretary of State's Office.

Prosecutor Brent Kempema on Tuesday used a chain of reports and an expert witness to demonstrate that Willard's credit card was used to buy the phone at a Sioux Falls Wal-Mart store and that an Internet address connected to the phone was assigned to Willard's household, the Argus Leader newspaper reported.

"It's my intent to ... explain to you how it is shown that Daniel Willard was one of the parties behind making these phone calls," Kempema told jurors in his opening statement.

Willard's lawyer, R. Shawn Tornow, said Willard's credit card bought the phone but there is no evidence Willard actually used the card himself. He also said Internet addresses such as the one connected to Willard could be used by anyone in the same household.

The state's case, Tornow said, is "based on assumptions based on speculation based on conjecture."

Each of the four counts against Willard carry a maximum penalty of one year in a county jail and a $2,000 fine upon conviction.