GOP donor faces trial on child sex trafficking charges
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A well-connected former Republican donor accused of abusing frail, vulnerable teenage girls with cash, liquor and gifts is due Tuesday on federal charges of underage sex trafficking.
Anton “Tony” Lazzaro is charged with seven counts of “commercial sex acts” with five minors ages 15 and 16 in 2020, when he was 30 years old. His charge sparked a political firestorm that led to the demise of Jennifer Carnahan as chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota.
His co-defendant, Gisela Castro Medina, who formerly headed the College Republicans chapter at the University of St. Thomas, pleaded guilty to two counts last year. She is cooperating with prosecutors and will testify against him. She risks her sentence in August.
Lazzaro denies the sex trafficking allegations. He says the government targeted him for political reasons and because of his wealth.
Prosecutors say it’s just sex trafficking. They have not expressed any intention to call political figures as witnesses, nor have the defense. U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz has already rejected Lazzaro’s claims of selective prosecution.
But Lazzaro insists he is innocent and that the charges are politically motivated.
“Mr. Lazzaro believes he is being targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice for his political activities,” spokeswoman Stacy Bettison said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The unusual application of the federal sex trafficking statute to the facts of the case from Mr. Lazzaro supports his beliefs. He is not the only one who thinks the US Justice Department is politicizing prosecutions. Many other individuals, including many members of Congress and most recently the Senate Judiciary Committeerecently raised legitimate and credible concerns that Attorney General (Merrick) Garland is politicizing the department by aggressively investigating Republicans and conservative activists, such as Mr. Lazzaro.
Carnahan is the widow from U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died of kidney cancer in February 2022. She denied knowledge of any wrongdoing by Lazzaro before the indictments were unsealed in August 2021, and she condemned his alleged crimes. But his arrest sparked outrage among party activists. Allegations surfaced that she had created a toxic work environment and abused confidentiality agreements to silence its critics. She resigned a week later.
Carnahan and Lazzaro became friends when she unsuccessfully ran for a legislative seat in 2016. He supported her bid to become party chairman in 2017 and attended her wedding to Hagedorn in 2018. They hosted a podcast together for a few months.
Lazzaro also helped lead the campaign of Republican Lacy Johnson, who failed to unseat Democratic U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota in 2020. pennies. He founded a political action committee called Big Tent Republicans, which advocated for a more inclusive party.
Lazzaro gave more than $270,000 to Republican campaigns and political committees over the years, including $42,000 to the state party organization and $31,000 to Hagedorn’s campaign. Several recipients quickly donated those contributions to charity after the allegations became public, including U.S. Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, who received $15,600 but suffered no repercussions. Emmer became majority whip in January.
Prosecutors alleged in their lawsuit earlier this month that Lazzaro conspired with Castro Medina and others to recruit 15- and 16-year-old girls to have sex with him in exchange for money and valuables. They met on a “sugar daddy” website in May 2020 when she was 18 years old and finishing high school, prosecutors wrote.
According to the assignment, Lazzaro had “a distinct sexual preference for young, little girls” and found them “broken” and vulnerable – but without tattoos. Prosecutors say he paid Castro Medina “more than $50,000,” including money for her tuition, her off-campus apartment, and her Mini Cooper.
He often sent cars to take the girls to his luxury penthouse apartment at the Hotel Ivy in downtown Minneapolis, prosecutors said.
“Once the girls Castro Medina recruited arrived at Lazzaro’s apartment, a similar pattern followed,” the letter claims. “Lazzaro would brag about his wealth and connections. He would give the girls – small and young – liquor. Lazzaro pulled out stacks of cash and offered the girls precise amounts of money to perform certain sexual acts on him and each other. $100 to kiss. $400 for sex. And so on. He would send them home with cash, vapes, alcohol, plan B, cell phones and other valuables.” Plan B is a form of emergency contraception.
Lazzaro is also the target of a lawsuit by an alleged victim who claims he was offered $1,000 in hush money to her and her parents and asked them to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
The charges against Lazzaro, who has since been imprisoned his arrest and has been denied bail, mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years with a maximum chance of life in prison.
The sources of Lazzaro’s wealth are murky. Defense records have called him “an up-and-coming real estate owner and entrepreneur.” Items seized from him included a 2010 Ferrari and more than $371,000 in cash. The government estimated his net worth at more than $2 million in a bond report, but said the calculations did not take into account his “extensive” but hard-to-trace cryptocurrency holdings. It noted that the search turned up multiple types of foreign currency, plus precious metals worth more than $500,000.