Crime, Law and Justice

Final three alleged trafficking victims testify against former GOP operative, Anton Lazzaro

A sketch of a pretrial hearing
Assistant U.S. Attorney Melinda Williams said that she expects to finish presenting the main part of her case against Anton Lazzaro on Tuesday.
Cedric Hohnstadt for MPR News

Prosecutors are expected to rest their case Tuesday in the sex trafficking trial of Anton “Tony” Lazzaro, 32, a former Minnesota Republican Party operative and top donor who’s charged with paying five minors for sex in violation of federal trafficking laws. On Monday, the final three alleged victims and a parent testified for the government.

The mother of one of the teens, identified in court documents as Victim D, told jurors that she grew concerned in late 2020 when her daughter came home with a new iPhone, something she wouldn’t have been able to afford working part-time at a coffee shop.

In court, prosecutors and defense attorneys have been addressing the alleged victims and other key witnesses by their first names, but MPR News is not publishing any information that could identify them.

After seeing a bank deposit of $600 in cash, the woman soon learned that her daughter “was having sex with an old man for money.” She contacted Source MN, which provides advice and help for trafficking victims, and also reached out to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. When she didn’t get a call back from the BCA, the woman said she contacted a friend who’s a judge, who in turn contacted the FBI. An FBI agent called about a half hour later.

“I was horrified,” the woman said. “I don't even have words to describe [it]. I had all kinds of emotions. I couldn’t believe someone would do that to my daughter and lure her in that way.”

Later Monday, Victim D testified that she met Lazzaro through another friend, Victim E, who had met Lazzaro at the Mall of America’s Nordstrom store, where he bought her a Prada purse. Both women, who are now adults, said that they were 16 years old at the time.

As prosecutors displayed a surveillance photo from the store, Victim D said she felt jealous of her friend.

“I thought that it was crazy that she just went to the mall with someone she didn’t even know and they bought her a Prada purse, and she didn’t do anything.”

Victim E, who also testified Monday, said that she was introduced to Lazzaro over Snapchat by Gisela Castro Medina, who admitted working for Lazzaro as his “recruiter.” Castro Medina, 21, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking and obstruction charges in December and testified against Lazzaro on Thursday.

Victim E said she and Victim D went to Lazzaro’s downtown Minneapolis apartment in September of 2020. Before going inside, Victim E said that she and her friend were apprehensive about the visit, and decided that they would not eat or drink anything that Lazzaro offered them. In testimony last week, other alleged victims said Lazzaro served them champagne and hard liquor.

Victim E said that during the hourlong visit, Lazzaro took turns having sex with them and sent them away with large amounts of cash, a new iPhone, and more than a dozen Puff Bars, a type of e-cigarette.

The woman said she returned to Lazzaro’s apartment a second time, alone, where Lazzaro paid her $800 for sex.

When Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Provinzino asked the teen what she was thinking about when she met Lazzaro, she responded: “Looking back, I just wanted money.”

Also Monday, FBI Special Agent Richard Waller testified that when he got the case in late 2020, he immediately had to coordinate his efforts with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which had already begun investigating Lazzaro.

Waller said that the FBI obtained records of two of Lazzaro’s profiles on SeekingArrangement, a website that connects generally wealthy men with younger sex partners.

On one of the profiles, Lazzaro allegedly wrote “I love to meet girls under 18-25 typically who are seeking a no BS sugar daddy experience with a generous guy.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Melinda Williams said that she expects to finish presenting the main part of her case on Tuesday.

Defense attorneys said that they may call Lazzaro’s mother and girlfriend as character witnesses, but U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz said federal law restricts the testimony that character witnesses may give.

Schiltz told jurors that they can expect to begin their deliberations later this week.

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