Trial begins for Minnesota GOP operative accused of child sex trafficking
Anton Lazzaro’s indictment on sex trafficking charges led to upheaval in the Minnesota Republican Party.
MINNEAPOLIS — Jury selection started Tuesday, March 21, in the trial of Anton “Tony” Lazzaro, a Minnesota Republican donor and strategist accused of child sex trafficking.
Prosecutors allege Lazzaro, 32, lured five victims for sex and attempted to lure a sixth between May and December 2020. He has been in custody since federal authorities arrested him at his Minneapolis apartment in August 2021. The alleged victims were as young as 15, according to court documents. He faces up to life in prison.
Lazzaro’s indictment on sex trafficking charges led to upheaval in the Minnesota Republican Party. His close association with former party chair Jennifer Carnahan contributed to her resignation in August 2021. Carnahan condemned Lazzaro’s alleged actions and denied knowledge of any illegal activity.
Carnahan, who was married to the late Minnesota U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, for a short time hosted a podcast with Lazzaro.
Lazzaro has pleaded not guilty to the charges: conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, aiding and abetting sex trafficking of a minor, and related obstruction charges. He’s argued he was targeted for his political activities and wealth, though he won’t be able to argue that at trial.
Prosecutors claim Lazzaro paid $50,000 to Gisela Castro Medina, the former University of St. Thomas College Republicans chair, to find “Girls who were young, small and vulnerable” and “broken.” Lazzaro allegedly brought girls to his condo at Hotel Ivy in downtown Minneapolis and offered money and gifts for sex.
Medina, who is slated to testify against Lazzaro, pleaded guilty in December to a sex trafficking conspiracy charge. In court, she admitted to finding girls on social media, arranging meetings with Lazzaro and trying to pay the alleged victims to stay quiet.
She admitted to recruiting minors tailored to Lazzaro’s specific tastes, including compiling photos of girls for him to choose from. One of the victims was 15 years old at the time of the offense, according to a statement she affirmed in court.
Medina affirmed in court that she met Lazzaro through a website called Seeking Arrangement, also known as Seeking.com — a website often used by wealthier older men and younger women to connect for “sugar daddy” relationships.
According to the plea agreement read in court, Lazzaro paid $600 to have sex with Medina and an underage girl when he and Medina first met. Medina eventually stopped engaging in sexual acts and became a recruiter. She said Lazzaro at one point promised to buy her a house and help pay for graduate school.
Medina was arrested in Florida in August 2021 and initially pleaded not guilty to all her charges. She has stayed in a halfway house since entering her plea, though she has been able to obtain short releases for holidays.
Lazzaro’s trial comes after more than a year of hearings, in which his defense team attempted to get the charges thrown out and even pushed to get his Ferrari back from federal authorities.
The car is one of several assets federal agents seized from Lazzaro, including gold bars and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. Authorities have since returned the cash and precious metals, which they seized in a December 2020 search warrant.
Lazzaro has been in the Sherburne County Jail since his arrest and was denied bail after authorities said he attempted to interfere with the investigation and allegedly made threatening statements toward a prosecutor and officer investigating his case.
Ahead of the trial, Chief District Court Judge Patrick J. Schiltz ruled Lazzaro may not present any arguments that he was targeted for his political involvement or wealth.
Lazzaro had appeared as a contributor on Fox News in the past, and his attorney in a court filing claimed Lazzaro was set to appear on "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on the day of his arrest to speak on a "prominent Democratic United States representative from Minnesota."
Prosecutors will be able to mention Lazzaro's pornography website that featured him and other performers, according to court documents. The website was called “Only Tiny Teens,” but they won’t be able to say its name in front of the jury or introduce evidence that he owned or operated it. Prosecutors allege Lazzaro used the pornography business to “recruit and entice his co-defendant, the minor victims and a witness to engage in commercial sex.”
Lazzaro and Medina also face a lawsuit from one of the alleged victims, who is represented by Jeff Anderson, a high-profile attorney whose firm represents victims in child sex abuse cases across the U.S. Anderson said in December he expects the civil case to move forward after the trial.
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