MN GOP donor, strategist Anton Lazzaro paid teen girls with cash, gifts for sex, prosecutors say
Lazzaro was denied release on home detention in first court appearance
Anton Lazzaro, 30, has been charged with sex trafficking six minor girls.
Anton Lazzaro, a major Minnesota GOP donor and strategist, paid teenage girls with cash, gifts and lavish meals in exchange for sex, federal prosecutors said Tuesday, arguing against his release on home detention as he awaits trial.
Lazzaro, appearing in orange jail jumpsuit, pleaded not guilty five counts of sex trafficking, three counts of obstruction, one count of attempted sex trafficking of a minor, and one count of conspiracy to sex traffick minors.
Tuesday was his first appearance since his Aug. 12 arrest and provided the most vivid details of the charges against Lazzaro, who had been a close friend of Minnesota Republican Party chair Jennifer Carnahan, who resigned from her post last week.
The lurid details in what promises to be a lengthy and ongoing story about a prominent GOP donor could continue to roil Republicans in their 2022 election efforts.
Brandon Brugger, a Minneapolis police officer who serves on a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension task force, testified that the investigation began with a tip from a teenage girl and her family.
Brugger detailed that Lazzaro, 30, relied on Gisela Castro Medina, a 19-year-old University of St. Thomas student and chair of the College Republicans there, to recruit underage girls for him.
Brugger said the alleged victims ranged from 15- to 17 years of age, and he said Lazzaro paid them with cash, makeup, luxury handbags and vape pens.
He said Medina was paid for recruiting the girls, who were brought to his downtown Minneapolis condo at The Hotel Ivy. Brugger said Lazzaro once picked up one of the alleged victims in his Ferrari, but other times he would send a car sent by a ride-hailing app.
U.S. Attorney Laura Provinzino said Lazzaro had tried to get one of his alleged victims to sign a non-disparagement agreement in exchange for $1,000 on the day the victim and their family went to the police.
“Who asks a 16-year-old victim to sign an NDA?” Provinzino said.
Lazzaro’s attorney, Zachary Lee Newland, alleged that the 16-year-old had first tried to financially blackmail Lazzaro before going to the police.
Newland also asked Brugger what the age of consent in Minnesota is, to which Brugger said 16 years old.
Brugger also testified that Medina’s ex-boyfriend introduced Lazzaro to his current girlfriend, who is 19, and Lazzaro paid him $3,000 for the introduction. Lazzaro also paid Medina to tutor his girlfriend in high school algebra, according to Brugger. Newland called the tutoring a legitimate service.
Newland also pushed back by saying Lazzaro paid for the boyfriend’s car repair, and that Brugger was misinterpreting that as payment for the introduction.
Lazzaro’s attorney called on former GOP legislative candidate Yele-Mis Yang, who is a Lazzaro business partner, to testify on behalf of Lazzaro.
Yang said they met at a political event about six years ago andspoke highly of his business partner, who founded the property management company that Yang runs on a day-to-day basis.
Yang said he trusted Lazzaro with his life, as well as around his children, two boys who are 10 and 7. He called Lazzaro “down to earth,” despite Lazzaro’s flaunting of a jetsetter lifestyle on social media, where he posed with stacks of cash.
During cross examination, Provinzino noted that Yang does not have any young, teenage daughters, and she asked if he was aware that Lazzaro had a Pornhub channel called “Only Young Teens.” Yang said he did not.
Some of the minor girls and their families listened to the hearing via phone conference.
Provinzino read statements from a handful of the girls and their family members.
“This is the very real and devastating result of what these evil people have done to my daughter,” Provinzino said, reading a statement from the mother of alleged Victim A, who she said is suffering from PTSD, depression and anxiety.
“He is a perverted narcissistic sex offender,” mother of Victim B said in a statement read in court.
Newland said Lazzaro had strong connections to the community, noting his participation in politics. He said their offer to monitor Lazzaro via internet-connected cameras installed in his home ensured he would not flee before his trial.
Provinzino also argued that the home detention plan was a way for Lazzaro to enjoy “a prison of privilege” at the Hotel Ivy.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer ultimately ruled against allowing Lazzaro to be released on home detention, saying he had the means and ability to flee. She also said his 19th floor condo made it difficult for unannounced visits to be conducted by U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services officers.
Lazzaro’s attorney also said Lazzaro expected an indictment as early as February, just two months after a search warrant was served and many of Lazzaro’s items, cash and gold bars were seized. Yang testified he was aware of the raid.
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