Former GOP donor Anton “Tony” Lazzaro has been sentenced to 21 years in prison on sex trafficking charges. Lazzaro was convicted of giving gifts, alcohol, and money to teenage girls in exchange for sex. The charges involved “commercial sex acts” with five girls aged 15 and 16 in 2020, when Lazzaro was 30. Prosecutors had requested a 30-year sentence, while the defense asked for no more than 10 years. US District Judge Patrick Schiltz ultimately settled on a 21-year sentence.
Lazzaro, who maintains his innocence and claims the charges against him were politically motivated, plans to appeal the sentence. His indictment in 2021 sparked controversy within the Republican Party of Minnesota, leading to the downfall of Jennifer Carnahan as chair of the party. Lazzaro’s co-defendant, Gisela Castro Medina, former leader of the College Republicans chapter at the University of St. Thomas, pleaded guilty to two counts last year and testified against Lazzaro. She is set to be sentenced in September.
During Lazzaro’s trial, prosecutors argued that he recruited Medina, who he initially paid for sex, to help him recruit other teenagers, preferably minors. They claimed that Lazzaro often sent cars to bring the girls to his luxury penthouse condo at the Hotel Ivy in downtown Minneapolis. Lazzaro’s defense attorney, Daniel Gerdts, argued that the government’s prosecution was based on unfounded allegations and that Lazzaro denied paying for sex.
Lazzaro’s arrest had political ramifications, leading to the resignation of Jennifer Carnahan, who denied knowledge of any wrongdoing by Lazzaro but faced allegations of creating a toxic work environment and using nondisclosure agreements to silence critics. Carnahan and Lazzaro were friends, and he had supported her bid to become party chair in 2017.
Lazzaro’s wealth has raised questions, with defense filings describing him as an “up-and-coming real estate owner and entrepreneur.” Items seized from him included a 2010 Ferrari and over $371,000 in cash. The government estimated his net worth to be over $2 million, not including his cryptocurrency holdings. Lazzaro had donated over $270,000 to Republican campaigns and political committees over the years, some of which were subsequently donated to charity by the recipients.
The sentencing of Lazzaro highlights the seriousness of sex trafficking crimes and the efforts to hold perpetrators accountable. The case also underscores the potential political implications when a prominent donor is involved in criminal activity, leading to consequences within the party. The appeal process will determine whether Lazzaro’s claims of innocence and political motivations behind the charges will be further examined.