Prominent Minnesota Republican donor Anton “Tony” Lazzaro must remain in jail while facing charges of sex trafficking underage girls, a judge ruled on Tuesday, rejecting Lazzaro’s plea to release him to his downtown Minneapolis condo.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer said Lazzaro’s “tremendous” financial resources and international connections made him too much of a flight risk and that keeping him in jail would make it less likely he would be able to contact his victims, the Star Tribune reported Wednesday.
Appearing in orange jail garb on Tuesday, Lazzaro pleaded not guilty to five counts of sex trafficking, three counts of obstruction, one count of attempted sex trafficking of a minor, and one count of conspiracy to sex traffick minors.
The 4 1/2-hour detention hearing provided the most vivid details of the charges against Lazzaro, who had been a close friend of Minnesota Republican Party chair Jennifer Carnahan, who resigned from her post last week.
Brandon Brugger, a Minneapolis police officer who serves on a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension task force, testified that the investigation began with a tip from a teenage girl and her family.
Brugger detailed that Lazzaro, 30, relied on Gisela Castro Medina, a 19-year-old University of St. Thomas student and chair of the College Republicans there, to recruit underage girls for him.
Brugger said the alleged victims ranged from 15- to 17 years of age, and he said Lazzaro paid them with cash, makeup, luxury handbags and vape pens.
U.S. Attorney Laura Provinzino said Lazzaro had tried to get one of his alleged victims to sign a non-disparagement agreement in exchange for $1,000 on the day the victim and their family went to the police.
“Who asks a 16-year-old victim to sign an NDA?” Provinzino said.
Lazzaro’s attorney, Zachary Lee Newland, alleged that the 16-year-old had first tried to financially blackmail Lazzaro before going to the police.
Newland also called on former GOP legislative candidate Yele-Mis Yang, who is a Lazzaro business partner, to testify on behalf of Lazzaro.
Yang said they met at a political event about six years ago and spoke highly of his business partner, who founded the property management company that Yang runs on a day-to-day basis.
Yang said he trusted Lazzaro with his life, as well as around his children, two boys who are 10 and 7. He called Lazzaro “down to earth,” despite Lazzaro’s flaunting of a jetsetter lifestyle on social media, where he posed with stacks of cash.
During cross-examination, Provinzino noted that Yang does not have any young, teenage daughters, and she asked if he was aware that Lazzaro had a Pornhub channel called “Only Young Teens.” Yang said he did not.
Some of the minor girls and their families listened to the hearing via phone conference.
Provinzino read statements from a handful of the girls and their family members.
“This is the very real and devastating result of what these evil people have done to my daughter,” Provinzino said, reading a statement from the mother of alleged Victim A, who she said is suffering from PTSD, depression and anxiety.
“He is a perverted narcissistic sex offender,” the mother of Victim B said in a statement read in court.
Provinzino also argued that the home detention plan was a way for Lazzaro to enjoy “a prison of privilege” at the Hotel Ivy.
In her ruling, judge Bowbeer also said that Lazzaro’s 19th-floor condo made it difficult for unannounced visits to be conducted by U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services officers.