A wealthy Minnesota man deeply involved in Republican politics has now been convicted of trafficking teenage girls for sex.
On Friday, a federal jury took just two hours to convict 32-year-old Anton “Tony” Lazzaro of one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor and five counts of sex trafficking of a minor. During his two-week trial, jurors learned that two years ago, when he was 30, Lazzaro had arranged meetings with at least five 15- and 16-year-old girls with whom he then had sex. He later showered lavish gifts, including money, upon his victims.
"He wanted sex, and not just any sex," U.S. Attorney Melinda Williams said in her closing argument. "He wanted sex with minor girls under the age of 18. And he had a plan to get it."
Last year, his 21-year-old co-defendant Gisela Castro Medina, the former chair of the College Republicans at the University of St. Thomas, pled guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, and she testified against Lazzaro at his trial. According to prosecutors, Lazzaro first paid Medina for sex, then enlisted her to find other young girls for him. He preferred small, white girls who were under 18 and emotionally "broken," prosecutors claimed.
Though Lazzaro's attorneys openly scorned what they called Lazzaro's "playboy lifestyle," they claimed that his behavior was not criminal, just unseemly.
"The prosecution clearly disapproves of Mr. Lazzaro’s playboy lifestyle, and frankly as the father of three daughters, so do I," defense attorney Daniel Gerdts said during his closing statement. "But ... the only reason we’re here is to determine if he’s guilty of sex trafficking. That allegation is unfounded."
After the jury found Lazzaro guilty, fellow counsel for the defense Stacy Bettison claimed that prosecutors had unfairly conflated "what is nothing more than arguably an act of prostitution with federal sex trafficking." Lazzaro called the charges against him politically motivated and vowed to appeal.
Prosecutor Williams, on the other hand, cheered the jury's decision. "Anton Lazzaro was Minnesota’s Jeffrey Epstein," she said at a press conference, "and now he is going to prison for a very long time."
Despite his relative youth, Lazzaro had risen high in the ranks of the Minnesota Republican Party. The Guardian reported that during his career, he donated at least $270,000 to statewide and national Republican candidates, and he has been photographed with many recognizable politicians, including former President Donald Trump and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
According to his Twitter profile, Lazzaro also founded Big Tent Republicans, a GOP PAC, and the Guardian reported that the charges brought against him ultimately toppled former chair of the Minnesota Republican Party Jennifer Carnahan.
Lazzaro and Medina are both scheduled to be sentenced this August.
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