By STEVE KARNOWSKI (Associated Press)
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A previously well-connected Republican donor, accused of plying petite, weak teenage women with money, liquor and presents, goes on trial Tuesday on federal fees of intercourse trafficking minors.
Anton “Tony” Lazzaro is charged with seven counts involving “commercial sex acts” with 5 minors ages 15 and 16 in 2020, when he was 30 years previous. His indictment touched off a political firestorm that led to the downfall of Jennifer Carnahan as chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota.
His co-defendant, Gisela Castro Medina, who previously led the College Republicans chapter on the University of St. Thomas, pleaded responsible to 2 counts final yr. She is cooperating with prosecutors and can testify towards him. She faces sentencing in August.
Lazzaro denies the sex-trafficking allegations. He says the federal government focused him for political causes and due to his wealth.
Prosecutors say it’s merely a sex-trafficking case. They haven’t signaled any intent to name political figures as witnesses, nor has the protection. U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz has already rejected Lazzaro’s claims of selective prosecution.
But Lazzaro insists he’s harmless and that the costs are politically motivated.
“Mr. Lazzaro believes he is being targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice for his political activities,” spokeswoman Stacy Bettison mentioned in an announcement to The Associated Press. “The unusual application of the federal sex trafficking statute to the facts in Mr. Lazzaro’s case supports his beliefs. He is not alone in his view that the U.S. Department of Justice is politicizing prosecutions. Many other individuals, including many members of Congress and most recently the Senate Judiciary Committee, have recently raised legitimate and credible concerns that Attorney General (Merrick) Garland is politicizing the department by aggressively investigating Republicans and conservative activists, like Mr. Lazzaro.”
Carnahan is the widow of U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died of kidney most cancers in February 2022. She denied realizing of any wrongdoing by Lazzaro earlier than the costs have been unsealed in August 2021, and she or he condemned his alleged crimes. But his arrest fueled outrage amongst get together activists. Allegations surfaced that she created a poisonous work atmosphere and abused nondisclosure agreements to silence her critics. She resigned every week later.
Carnahan and Lazzaro turned pals when she ran unsuccessfully for a legislative seat in 2016. He backed her bid to change into get together chair in 2017 and attended her 2018 marriage ceremony to Hagedorn. They hosted a podcast collectively for a couple of months.
Lazzaro additionally helped run the marketing campaign of Republican Lacy Johnson, who did not unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, in 2020. Pictures on Lazzaro’s social media accounts confirmed him with outstanding Republicans, together with former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence. He based a political motion committee referred to as Big Tent Republicans, which advocated for a extra inclusive get together.
Lazzaro gave greater than $270,000 to Republican campaigns and political committees over time, together with $42,000 to the state get together group and $31,000 to Hagedorn’s marketing campaign. Several recipients rapidly donated these contributions to charity after the costs turned public, together with U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, of Minnesota, who obtained $15,600 however suffered no repercussions. Emmer turned majority whip in January.
Prosecutors alleged of their trial transient earlier this month that Lazzaro conspired with Castro Medina and others to recruit 15- and 16-year-old women to have intercourse with him in alternate for money and invaluable gadgets. They met in May 2020 on a “sugar daddy” web site when she was 18 years previous and ending highschool, prosecutors wrote.
According to the transient, Lazzaro had “a stated sexual preference for young, tiny girls” and preferred them “broken” and weak — however with out tattoos. Prosecutors say he paid Castro Medina “well over $50,000,” together with cash for her tuition, her off-campus condo and her Mini Cooper.
He usually despatched vehicles to take the women to his luxurious penthouse apartment on the Hotel Ivy in downtown Minneapolis, prosecutors mentioned.
“Once the girls Castro Medina recruited arrived at Lazzaro’s apartment, a similar pattern ensued,” the transient alleges. “Lazzaro would brag about his wealth and connections. He would give the girls — small and young — hard liquor. Lazzaro would take out stacks of cash and offer the girls precise sums of money to perform certain sex acts with him, and with each other. $100 to kiss. $400 for sex. And so forth. He would send them home with cash, vapes, alcohol, Plan B, cell phones, and other items of value.” Plan B is a type of emergency contraception.
Lazzaro can be the goal of a lawsuit by one alleged sufferer who claims he provided $1,000 in hush cash to her and her dad and mom and requested them to signal a nondisclosure settlement.
The fees towards Lazzaro, who has been jailed since his arrest and has been denied bail, carry obligatory minimal sentences of 10 years with a most potential of life in jail.
The sources of Lazzaro’s wealth are murky. Defense filings have referred to as him “an up-and-coming real estate owner and entrepreneur.” Items seized from him included a 2010 Ferrari and greater than $371,000 in money. The authorities put his internet value in a bond report at greater than $2 million however mentioned its calculations didn’t embrace his “extensive” however hard-to-trace cryptocurrency holdings. It famous that the search yielded a number of sorts of international forex, plus valuable metals value greater than $500,000.