Lazzaro found guilty on all counts in federal sex trafficking trial
Anton “Tony” Lazzaro, a former GOP donor and strategist, has been found guilty on all counts in a federal sex trafficking trial. A jury convicted him on one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor and five counts of sex trafficking of a minor on Friday after roughly three and a half hours of deliberation.
“Anton Lazzaro was Minnesota’s Jeffrey Epstein, and now he’s going to prison for a very long time,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Melinda Williams said during a news conference.
According to Hubbard Broadcasting’s 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS who were watching the proceedings: Prosecutors say Lazzaro used his wealth and political status to lure minor girls to his luxury condo in downtown Minneapolis, where he offered them cash in exchange for sex.
During his own testimony, Lazzaro, 32, admitted to having sex with five minor girls identified as victims in the indictment but denied paying them for sex.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger applauded the victims who came forward to testify during the trial.
“Phones, texts, pictures are all now part of every case that we do, and they were important as you saw in the courtroom part of this case, but let’s not discount what live testimony by brave young women will do because that’s always the backbone of any case,” Luger said.
The jury also heard from his co-conspirator, Gisela Castro Medina, who pleaded guilty to related charges last year.
It’s expected that Castro Medina will receive a reduced sentence for testifying in Lazzaro’s trial.
Testimony wrapped up on Thursday, and closing arguments commenced Friday morning.
For the prosecution, Williams told the jurors that despite his wealth and privilege, the defendant wanted more and came up with a plan to have sex with minor girls.
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“The guy who seemed to have it all was actually a predator and these girls were his prey,” she said.
Williams’ argument focused around a theme that she came back to repeatedly: this for that.
“Each victim told you unequivocally they only had sex with the defendant for one reason: the money,” Williams said. “Without the money, none of this would have happened.”
During her nearly hour-long presentation, Williams showed the jury photos of the minor girls, along with other exhibits that were featured prominently throughout the trial.
Some of that evidence was obtained just this week. On Tuesday night, prosecutors say Lazzaro’s former business associate came forward with photos and videos of the minor girls, along with screenshots of conversations between him and Lazzaro.
Williams pointed to those text message multiple times, referencing Lazzaro’s use of the phrase “breaking them in.” At times, Lazzaro appeared visibly upset, shaking his head and mumbling to his attorneys.
Lazzaro’s attorney, Daniel Gerdts, offered the defense’s closing argument. Gerdts told the jurors that what Lazzaro did was not sex trafficking. “Did we see a bunch of people, including teenagers, exercising bad judgment? Or were they the victims of sex trafficking? That’s what it boils down to,” Gerdts said.
Judge Patrick Schiltz sent the case to the jury for deliberation just before 12:30 p.m. Friday. He dismissed four individuals from the pool who were identified as alternates.
The group of 12 returned a verdict around 3:45 p.m.
A hearing is scheduled for Monday to address forfeiture issues.
Luger gave a word of caution that Lazzaro’s case is an example of what modern-day trafficking can look like.
“Trafficking can come in many forms and maybe what you see in the movies, what you see in the old descriptions of trafficking has changed like everything else,” he said during a post-trial news conference. “… And so we’re hoping that your coverage and our statements today and this verdict will send a signal to people, if you have a concern talk to us about it and, by the way, before you get to the level of a concern, talk to your kids about it.”