Prosecution nearing the end of its case in Lazzaro sex trafficking trial

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After listening to testimony for four days, jurors have heard from all five women that federal prosecutors say Anton “Tony” Lazzaro paid for sex.

Lazzaro, a former GOP strategist and donor, was indicted in 2021 for sex trafficking of minors and obstruction. He’s pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In pretrial documents, prosecutors signaled they would rely heavily on the testimony from a dozen minor girls. The government could rest its case as early as Tuesday. 

The alleged victims — ages 15 and 16 at the time — took the stand over the last week and recounted for the jury the same scenario: going to Lazzaro’s luxury condo in downtown Minneapolis, having sex with the 32-year-old and getting stacks of cash in exchange.

On Monday morning, jurors heard from one of the first teenage girls who said Lazzaro paid her for sex. Prosecutors refer to her as “Victim A.”

The young woman was 16 years old in the summer of 2020 when she met the defendant through her friend, Gisela Castro Medina.

Castro Medina was indicted alongside Lazzaro as a co-conspirator but pleaded guilty in December to sex trafficking and obstruction. She’s now cooperating with the government and testified to her role in the sex trafficking scheme last week.

The woman who testified Monday said over the course of several months, she had sex with Lazzaro multiple times. After each encounter, she said he paid her hundreds of dollars. A portion of the money, she recalled, was for Castro Medina. 

“It just felt like she was selling me to get money,” she said on the stand.

 Lazzaro’s defense attorneys pointed to inconsistencies in her statements to law enforcement. The questions led to a tense exchange when the young woman yelled at attorney Thomas Beito from the stand that she didn’t remember everything she told investigators in 2020.

Prosecutors followed by asking the teen about how she feels she was treated by Lazzaro.

“He did take my self-respect,” she said. “He manipulated me into thinking he wasn’t hurting me.”

The mother of another victim also testified Monday that she was the one who alerted the FBI. She said she became suspicious after her daughter came home with a new iPhone and deposited hundreds of dollars into their shared bank account. 

“I was horrified. I don’t even have words to describe it,” the mother said. “I couldn’t believe that someone would do that to my daughter and lure her in that way.”

 While the five teenagers testified to their individual experiences, jurors heard the same scenarios and details echoed in each of their stories.

Each woman was asked by prosecutors if they would have had sex with Lazzaro if he hadn’t paid them. Each answered “no.”

They also noted many of the same small details in their individual testimony, including a large mirror that hung on the ceiling above Lazzaro’s bed.

Recounting those memories was difficult for some of the women. One teenager broke down crying on the stand Monday afternoon, telling the jury Lazzaro stole her innocence.

“I never would have done it if I would have known how much pain it would cause me,” she said. “Never.”