Updated: Aug. 13, 11:05 a.m. | Posted: Aug. 12, 4:11 p.m.
A federal grand jury in Minnesota has indicted Republican political operative Anton J. Lazzaro on child sex trafficking charges.
Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office allege that Lazzaro, 30, conspired with others to recruit and solicit six people under the age of 18 to engage in commercial sex between May and December of 2020.
The indictment, unsealed Thursday, charges Lazzaro with five counts of sex trafficking of minors, one count of attempted sex trafficking of a minor, one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors and three counts of obstruction.
The name of a second person listed in the indictment is redacted.
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A judge ordered Lazzaro jailed pending a detention hearing next Monday. He’s being held in the Sherburne County Jail.
In a statement, defense attorney Zachary Newland said Lazzaro is being falsely accused and did not commit the crimes he's charged with.
The FBI Minneapolis division said in a tweet Thursday there may be additional alleged victims, and anyone with information should contact investigators at 763-569-8000.
The indictment orders Lazzaro to forfeit $371,240 seized from his home in downtown Minneapolis, as well as the condo itself, a 2010 Ferrari convertible, plus 13 mobile phones, six computers and other electronic items.
Lazzaro has strong connections to prominent Minnesota Republicans and managed the campaign of Republican Lacy Johnson, who made an unsuccessful bid to unseat DFL U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar last year.
In a Facebook post, Johnson said he was “shocked and disgusted over the allegations.”
“I was not aware that any investigation was underway until contacted by the press nor was I aware of any behavior that led to the complaint,” he posted.
“Neither I nor my congressional campaign organization have been contacted by authorities about this matter. I fully support vigorous enforcement of human trafficking laws. This matter is now in the hands of the courts. May justice be served.”
Pictures posted by Rep. Jim Hagedorn on social media show the two at Minnesota Vikings games, along with the congressman’s wife, Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan.
Lazzaro and Carnahan also shared a political podcast. Lazzaro was part of the team that helped Carnahan first win her position at the state party in 2017.
“If the allegations against Mr. Anton Lazzaro are true, this is an abhorrent act that we condemn in the highest possible terms,” she said in a statement on behalf of the party.
“The Republican Party of Minnesota will be donating the contributions that Mr. Lazzaro has given our organization to charity.”
Hagedorn released a statement to MPR News saying the charges are deeply troubling, and that contributions made to his campaign by Lazzaro will be donated to charities in southern Minnesota.
According to his website, Lazzaro is the founder of the Big Tent Republicans political action committee, which aims to broaden the party's appeal.
Pictures on Lazzaro’s Facebook and Twitter accounts show that he often rubbed elbows with the powerful, including former President Donald Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio among them.
Republicans donate Lazzaro contributions
Lazzaro was a hefty donor to Republican Party organizations and candidates.
Since 2014, he contributed more than $78,000 at the state level, much of which went to the Minnesota party, but also to top candidates for office. On the federal level, his nearly $36,000 in donations over the same period went mostly to Hagedorn or political organizations aligned with him. U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer’s campaign also received a big check from Lazzaro.
Emmer, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee that works to elect Republicans, said Thursday the “news is deeply disturbing” and that he divided the amount of the donation from Lazzaro between two shelter organizations, Alexandra House in Blaine and Anna Marie’s Alliance in St. Cloud.
Minnesota Attorney General candidate Doug Wardlow said in a statement he was rerouting the money he received from Lazzaro to a group aimed at combatting sexual exploitation.
State Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, said in a statement on social media Thursday that the “allegations are disturbing and troubling and they make my heart ache for the victims of such a horrifying crime.” Housley said she would make a contribution in the same amount of Lazzaro’s donation to the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, for its anti-trafficking efforts.