By all appearances, Anton “Tony” Lazzaro was living the dream. The 30-year-old political strategist, self-described entrepreneur and prominent donor to Minnesota Republicans posed in photos alongside conservative figures, including former President Donald Trump, Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
He also posted photos of his lavish lifestyle — sitting atop a private jet, putting gas in his red Ferrari and posing shirtless with wads of $100 bills.
Then, on Aug. 12, federal agents arrested Lazzaro on charges that he recruited minors for sex. Arrested alongside Lazzaro was 19-year-old Gisela Castro Medina, a University of St. Thomas student, whom a grand jury indictment alleges trafficked the minors with Lazzaro. Through his lawyer, Lazzaro has denied the allegations.
Now, an alleged victim is suing him, claiming in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that Medina lured her into having sex with Lazzaro when she was 16. The lawsuit also claims that Lazzaro hired lawyers to offer the alleged victim and her family $1,000 for the girl’s silence.
The lawyer representing Lazzaro in the criminal case did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Tuesday, and court records do not list an attorney for Medina.
Before his arrest, Lazzaro was active in Minnesota politics. He operated a political action committee called Big Tent Republicans, whose stated goal is “broadening the appeal of the Republican Party,” according to Lazzaro’s website. Lazzaro has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican campaigns and political committees, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported. Medina was chairperson of the College Republicans at the St. Paul university.
Yet while Lazzaro pursued his political ambitions, prosecutors say he conspired with Medina to recruit and solicit sex from six minors. The abuse allegedly took place between May 2020 and December 2020.
It is unclear whether the alleged victim who filed the lawsuit is connected to the indictment, which offers few details about the federal investigation into Lazzaro. But her account is the first to publicly detail how Lazzaro and Medina allegedly lured a minor during that time period.
According to the lawsuit, Lazzaro met Medina on a “sugar dating” website, where wealthy people meet younger people willing to exchange companionship for financial support. In 2020, Lazzaro allegedly gave Medina “money and gifts” to help him find underage women for sex, the lawsuit says. In May 2020, the lawsuit alleges, Medina began grooming the plaintiff, whom Medina had met two years before. Medina allegedly introduced the 16-year-old to Lazzaro, whom she portrayed as a “powerful, prominent, and wealthy businessman and political figure,” according to the lawsuit.
For several months ending in July 2020, Lazzaro allegedly “committed multiple commercial sex acts against” the teen, according to the lawsuit.
Later in July, the father of the alleged victim was contacted by a lawyer representing Lazzaro, according to the lawsuit. The lawyers allegedly told the father that his daughter was attempting to defame Lazzaro on social media and threatened legal action. To keep them quiet, the lawyers allegedly offered the family $1,000, and in a proposed nondisclosure agreement, asserted that “Mr. Lazzaro and [Minor Doe] had a consensual interaction in the recent past,” the lawsuit states.
The father declined the offer and contacted law enforcement.
The allegations have roiled the state’s GOP over the last month, and many Republicans have attempted to distance themselves from Lazzaro. Multiple state legislators have donated Lazzaro’s contributions and publicly denounced him.
Lazzaro’s arrest also led to the ouster of Jennifer Carnahan, the state’s GOP chair, whose close ties to Lazzaro invited wider criticism of her leadership. She denied knowing about the allegations being leveled at Lazzaro.
“I found out when you guys found out,” she said, according to WCCO. “I was shocked and disgusted. I think Mr. Lazzaro is going to spend the rest of his life in prison.”