Prosecutors rest case, Lazzaro takes stand in his trial
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For more than two hours Tuesday afternoon, Anton “Tony” Lazzaro sat on the witness stand in federal court in downtown Minneapolis and explained how he met the minor girls he is accused of paying for sex.
Lazzaro was indicted in 2021 on sex trafficking of minors and obstruction. He’s pleaded not guilty to the charges and was eager to testify in his own defense Tuesday.
On the stand, the 32-year-old detailed how he first became intrigued by his co-defendant, Gisela Castro Medina, after meeting her on a sugar daddy website.
Castro Medina pleaded guilty in December and testified last week that she was paid to recruit young “broken girls” for Lazzaro.
While Lazzaro denied having any such agreement with Castro Medina, he admitted to having sex with one of her friends who was just 16 years old at the time.
“We started making out and one thing led to another and that’s pretty much how it went in my recollection,” Lazzaro said.
That teenager was one of five witnesses who testified earlier in the trial that Lazzaro paid them for sex when they were 15 and 16 years old.
Lazzaro also acknowledged sending money to Castro Medina and her friend.
“They asked me for money all the time, in random amounts,” Lazzaro said. “I gave them money all the time.”
Thanks to Castro Medina, Lazzaro said he quickly gained a reputation as being liberal with his money even though he never explicitly offered payments for sex.
“I liked the attention that she was bragging about me,” he said.
Lazzaro said he also had sex with other girls that Castro Medina brought to his apartment but said he didn’t know how old they were because their ages kept shifting.
He said he was unaware one of the teenagers was 16 at the time until she testified a few days ago.
Before prosecutors wrapped their case against Lazzaro, they argued he lured the girls with money, expensive gifts and alcohol.
Lazzaro said the one thing he is guilty of is giving alcohol to people under the age of 21, which he told the jurors he regrets.
Earlier in the trial, prosecutors told the jury Lazzaro had sent an Uber to pick up three minor girls from a sleepover and bring them back to his condo.
Lazzaro claimed he not know how old the girls were. He said he gave them each a couple hundred bucks but did not have sex with them that night.
He then admitted to having sex with one of the girls at a later time but thought she was a lot older than 15 years old.
Lazzaro said he paid the girl but tried to cut off contact after learning how young she was.
“I was really freaked out about the age thing,” Lazzaro said, adding that the girl was pretending to be 18 or 19.
Dressed in a blue suit, white shirt and striped tie, Lazzaro explained how he grew up in Southern California but it was childhood dream to move to Minnesota.
After he started making money in internet advertising while attending college in Idaho, Lazzaro said he moved to Minneapolis where he quickly became engrained in politics.
His arrest in 2021 rocked the state’s Republican party because of his close ties to lawmakers and party leaders.
Castro Medina testified that he used that access to impress the girls that she recruited.
On Tuesday, Lazzaro explained how he became known as a “sugar daddy.”
He described several of the girls that he met as “sketchy” who were always asking for money or gifts, which he often provided but denied it was in exchange for sex.