Anton Lazzaro trial: Prosecutors outline sex trafficking case

Opening statements in the federal trial of Anton "Tony" Lazzaro underscored the heart of this trial: what counts as sex trafficking and does what Lazzaro did with teenage girls fit the legal definition

Lazzaro, age 32, is charged with seven counts, alleging he used another young woman to find and recruit teenage girls with the promises of alcohol, money and expensive gifts.

A donor in the Minnesota GOP, Lazzaro contends he’s being targeted for his politics.  The judge in this case has barred any mention of these claims during the trial.

Federal prosecutor Laura Provinzino told jurors that "throughout this trial, you’ll see the defendant is a predator and he wanted what he saw as easy prey."

Federal trafficking laws define the crime as knowingly recruiting, enticing or transporting a minor, someone under 18, to engage in a commercial sex act, which itself is defined as any sex act in which anything of value is given or received.

Provinzino said Lazzaro used Gisela Castro Medina to help recruit the other girls, and that encrypted social media messages recovered by investigators will show this.  Medina has pled guilty and agreed to testify in exchange for leniency.

"The defendant paid Gisela to serve these girls up," Provinzino said, and that he then paid the girls for sex and "that’s a crime."

One of Lazzaro’s defense lawyers told jurors "you’re going to see this whole idea of recruitment is a red herring.. there is no evidence to support it."

Attorney Thomas Beito said Lazzaro was wealthy and generous, but socially awkward.  So to surround himself with friends, he ends up paying people, "a lot of people, to hang out with him.  Some of these people he ends up having sex with, most of them he does not."

"This isn’t sex trafficking, ladies and gentlemen… those young ladies were there because they wanted to be."

But on the witness stand most of the afternoon was an 18-year-old identified as "Victim C."  She was 15 in the summer of 2020 when she testified she befriended Medina through social media.  Soon, Medina was encouraging her to meet her wealthy friend who could give her and her friends money, vape supplies and cash.

Soon after, she and two friends snuck out of another friends house during a sleepover and hopped in an Uber that Lazzaro had sent to get them.  At his Minneapolis condo, he gave them alcohol and money.  Nothing physical happened, but each girl got a $100 bill.

"We thought it was just for, like, hanging out," testified Victim C. "We thought it was strange and nothing weird happened, so we got paid for hanging out."

She went back again with one of then girls, drank more, and then played Truth or Dare, with Lazzaro giving them cash for the game.  She says she eventually had sex with Lazzaro, but was very drunk.

"I wanted to get up or do something but I couldn’t really do anything about it," she testified. "Even though I wanted to get up or stop it or something."

But she went back to the condo again, this time alone.  Once again, she got drunk and had sex with Lazzaro, and was given "a few hundred" at least, she said.  Would she have gone if not for the money, she was asked. "No."