Jurors hear opening statements in Lazzaro’s federal sex trafficking trial

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Members of a federal jury were sworn in Wednesday morning as the trial for 32-year-old Anton “Tony” Lazzaro, who is charged with sex trafficking and obstruction, officially got underway.

Jurors also heard from the first of five minors, whom prosecutors say were the alleged victims of the sex trafficking scheme.

As previously reported by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, a panel of 16 jurors were chosen Tuesday, with four of those serving as alternates while 12 people deliberate. Another 15 prospective jurors were dismissed for cause.

Judge Patrick Schiltz swore in the jurors and provided instructions shortly after 9 a.m.

The government’s opening statement from Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Provinzino wrapped up after roughly an hour, where it was alleged Lazzaro “paid tens of thousands of dollars to have sex with minor girls.”

“That’s a crime,” Provinzino told the jury.

RELATED: Federal prosecutors detail upcoming sex trafficking case against Tony Lazzaro

Prosecutors also showed photos of Lazzaro’s condo, taken by federal investigators during the December 2020 raid of his luxury penthouse apartment at the Hotel Ivy. In one of the pictures, prosecutors described a wall of photos of Lazzaro with celebrities and prominent politicians.

Prosecutors told jurors five of the alleged victims are expected to testify, along with Gisela Castro Medina — a co-conspirator who entered guilty pleas in December to sex trafficking and obstruction.

“They may be embarrassed, nervous,” Provinzino told the jurors of the minors who will testify. “They may also be ashamed. They will be testifying of their own sexual abuse and exploitation… at a time when many were going through difficult periods in their lives.”

RELATED: Experts: Alleged victim testimony key in Lazzaro sex trafficking trial

Prosecutors added that they will present evidence that will include transactions for Uber and Lyft, text messages, social media messages and more. Six large storage bins of files sat in the courtroom Wednesday morning behind prosecutors. 

Afterwards, the defense opened, saying Lazzaro is “not the cartoon character villain that the government portrayed in their opening”, with attorney Thomas Beito describing Lazzaro’s childhood and family.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reporter Kirsten Swanson says Beito briefly spoke about Lazzaro’s interest and connection to politics, saying he volunteered for Mitt Romney’s campaign and didn’t mention Lazzaro’s involvement in politics or political donations in Minnesota. Lazzaro’s arrest rocked the Republican Party in the state, leading to the return of thousands of dollars in campaign cash and the resignation of former party chair Jennifer Carnahan.

Beito also briefly discussed his defense tactic, saying Lazzaro “ended up paying people – a lot of people – just to hang out with him. Some of them he ends up having sex with.” The defense also said this wasn’t sex trafficking.

“Those young ladies were there because they wanted to be. And at the end of the evidence, you will see Tony is not guilty of trafficking anyone,” said Beito at the end of his opening statements.

Check back for updates as the trial continues, and make sure to follow reporter Kirsten Swanson on Twitter for updates from the courtroom.