Iowa murder suspect lived on land owned by GOP fundraiser

A ribbon for missing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts hangs on a light post, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, in Brooklyn, Iowa. Tibbetts was reported missing from her hometown in the eastern Iowa city of Brooklyn in July 2018. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

IOWA CITY — A top Republican fundraiser whose firm works for several prominent immigration hardliners is the partial owner of the land where the Mexican man accused of killing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts lived rent-free, a farm spokeswoman said Friday.

Nicole Schlinger has long been a key fundraiser and campaign contractor for GOP politicians in Iowa and beyond, including this cycle for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Virginia Senate candidate Corey Stewart.

Schlinger is the president of Campaign Headquarters, a call center that makes fundraising calls, identifies supporters and helps turn out voters for conservative candidates and groups. Her business is one of the largest in Brooklyn, the central Iowa town where Tibbetts disappeared while out for a run on July 18.

Schlinger is married to Eric Lang, the president of the family-owned dairy that has acknowledged providing employment and housing for the last four years to Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the man charged with murder in Tibbetts’ death.

The couple — along with her husband’s brother Craig Lang and his wife — own farmland outside Brooklyn that includes trailers where some of the dairy’s employees live for free as a benefit of their employment, farm spokeswoman Eileen Wixted confirmed.

She said Rivera lived there for the duration of his employment, and about half of the farm’s other 10 workers do so as well. Under the arrangement, the farming company pays the couples to rent the land but workers do not have to pay, she said.

In an email Friday, Schlinger said that she was “shocked and deeply saddened” by Tibbetts’ death and had never met Rivera. “The perpetrator should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, and when he meets his maker, suffer the consequences he deserves,” she wrote.

She said that she was gifted an ownership interest in the land many years ago from her husband’s family and that she has no role in the farming operation.

Still, the fact that one of its own operatives has indirect ties to the case could complicate GOP efforts to highlight the gruesome slaying in its political messaging ahead of the November midterm election. Dairy co-owner Craig Lang also was a Republican candidate for Iowa agriculture secretary, finishing third in a five-way race in the June primary.

Republicans such as President Donald Trump and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds called for stricter immigration laws and enforcement almost immediately after Rivera, who is suspected of being in the country illegally, was charged Tuesday. Some have blamed Democratic policies for the slaying, even though studies have disputed the notion that those in the country illegally are more likely to commit violent crime.

“Every victim below would be alive today if we enforced our immigration laws,” U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa tweeted Friday, above a picture of Tibbetts and other victims. “Leftists sacrificed thousands, including their own, on the altar of Political Correctness.”