Woman testifies Anton Lazzaro gave her cash, gifts when she brought teens to him

A sketch of a man in a courthouse
Castro Medina said Lazzaro gave her the money and gifts in exchange for recruiting sex partners, but she later came to realize that it was also "to keep me happy, keep me silenced."
Courtesy of Cedric Hohnstadt

A woman who admitted recruiting and grooming high school girls for a one-time Minnesota Republican Party operative said in trial testimony Thursday that Anton “Tony” Lazzaro gave her cash and expensive gifts in exchange for finding younger sex partners.

Lazzaro, 32, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that in 2020 he paid five minors, then ages 15 and 16, for sex in violation of federal sex trafficking laws.

Gisela Castro Medina, 21, told jurors that when she was 18 at the start of the pandemic shutdown, she and a then-16-year-old friend were bored, so they set up profiles on SeekingArrangement, a “sugar daddy” dating site that matches typically wealthy men with younger partners.

In exchange for her guilty plea in December to sex trafficking and obstruction, as well as cooperation with the government, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis promised to ask Judge Patrick Schiltz for leniency at sentencing.

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Under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Melinda Williams, Castro Medina said that in May of 2020, she and a woman described in court documents as Victim A began exchanging messages with Lazzaro. After Lazzaro sent them $50 in exchange for photos of their faces, Castro Medina said Lazzaro sent an Uber to pick them up from a suburb west of Minneapolis and take them to his downtown apartment.

During their first visit, Castro Medina said she was impressed with the opulent dark velvet decor of Lazzaro’s luxury flat on the 19th floor of the Hotel Ivy and the photos of famous people, including President Donald Trump, that lined the entry hall. Castro Medina added that she “was expecting much worse” from the website, and was relieved to find that Lazzaro did not initially appear to be “old or creepy.”

She said Lazzaro lent an empathetic ear to their concerns about parents and boyfriends and served them champagne, though did not drink himself.

Castro Medina said that Lazzaro “pulled out a lot of money, like a stack” and suggested that they remove their shirts in exchange for the cash. She said Lazzaro then had sex with the 16-year-old in his bedroom while Castro Medina remained in the living room watching “The Lion King.” Castro Medina said the younger teen soon emerged from the bedroom and told her that it was her turn to have sex with Lazzaro.

Castro Medina testified that during her second visit to Lazzaro’s apartment, he asked her to be his “recruiter,” a request she initially rebuffed, but later accepted.

Castro Medina said that Lazzaro paid her to use social media to find sexual partners for him. As prosecutors alleged previously, and Castro Medina testified, Lazzaro sought out “broken girls,” who were around age 16 and were thin, petite and did not have tattoos.

She said that she also helped Lazzaro craft social media messages to potential partners, and tutored him on the use of teenage slang in order to appear younger and more “authentic.”

After Williams displayed an itemized list of Venmo transactions, Castro Medina confirmed that among other things, Lazzaro paid for her vacations, a pair of $890 Christian Dior sneakers, a tuition payment to the University of St. Thomas of more than $5,000, as well as a used MiniCooper car and $10,000 in cash.

A sketch of a pretrial hearing
In this courtroom sketch, Anton "Tony" Lazarro (left) listens during a pretrial hearing in federal court Monday.
Cedric Hohnstadt for MPR News

Castro Medina said Lazzaro gave her the money and gifts in exchange for recruiting sex partners, but she later came to realize that it was also “to keep me happy, keep me silenced,” when one alleged teenage victim contacted law enforcement.

She also testified that her then 16-year-old friend became upset with the payments that Lazzaro had been giving to Castro Medina for “pimping her out,” and the younger teen demanded more money from Lazzaro.

Castro Medina echoed earlier allegations from federal prosecutors that Lazzaro offered the teen and her father $1,000 in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement, which they refused.

Worried about a law enforcement investigation, Castro Medina said that Lazzaro hired private investigators to take “disparaging photos” of at least two alleged victims using drugs in order to discredit them.