Lazzaro co-conspirator sentenced to 3 years in sex trafficking case

Lazzaro co-conspirator sentenced to 3 years in sex trafficking case

Lazzaro co-conspirator sentenced to 3 years in sex trafficking case

The 21-year-old who recruited young women into a sex trafficking scheme run by Anton “Tony” Lazzaro has been sentenced to three years in prison.

A judge handed down the 36-month sentence to Gisela Castro Medina on Tuesday morning. She will then be on supervised release for five years. She’s expected to turn herself into federal authorities next month. 

Castro Medina was indicted alongside Lazzaro, a former political donor and strategist, in 2021. The then-18-year-old used social media to recruit 15-and-16-year-old girls, whom Lazzaro then paid for sex.

Lazzaro was sentenced last month to 21 years in prison after a jury convicted him of one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor and five counts of sex trafficking of a minor.

Castro Medina pleaded guilty in December 2022 and agreed to testify against Lazzaro, providing crucial testimony for the government. 

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Rachel Paulose, who served as U.S. Attorney for Minnesota from 2006 to 2008, said the sentence was well below what the sentencing guidelines typically call for, but that Castro Medina’s cooperation and remorse likely played a factor in the judge’s decision.

“It’s one-seventh of the time that her co-defendant, Mr. Lazzaro, received,” she said.

In court Tuesday, prosecutors acknowledged the contribution Castro Medina made to their case against Lazzaro, but still asked for a seven-year sentence. In a filing to the court last month, the U.S. Attorney’s office said Castro Medina played a “crucial and despicable role” in the scheme. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Melinda Williams echoed that statement in court Tuesday, saying the girls wouldn’t have ever met Lazzaro without Medina Castro’s help.

“The sense of betrayal the victims felt and the anger they felt was at times much higher than what they felt for Mr. Lazzaro,” Williams told the judge.

Castro Medina’s defense attorney Elizabeth Duel argued her client should be placed on supervised release and spend no time in prison. 

“She does not blame anyone but herself for being here today,” Duel said, citing her willingness to cooperate with the government’s case and her remorse.

Before learning her fate, Castro Medina addressed the court, apologizing repeatedly to the victims.

“I’ve come to fully acknowledge and feel the repercussions of what I did with Mr. Lazzaro,” she said.

In explaining his sentencing decision, Chief Judge Patrick Schiltz said Castro Medina was also a victim of Lazzaro.

“She was at an age that she wasn’t even trusted to buy a drink in a bar,” he said to the courtroom. “She was very vulnerable to predators like Mr. Lazzaro… and has made a remarkable turnaround since her arrest.”

Paulose, the former U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, said it was significant that the judge acknowledged Castro Medina’s role in the conspiracy but also her own vulnerability. 

“The fact that Judge Schiltz specifically noted the cycle of brokenness here I think is an important step forward in our judicial system becoming more mature and understanding these kinds of cases,” Paulose said.