10:37 AM PDT, August 18, 2021
A 19-year-old Minnesota woman has been indicted on charges of helping wealthy Minnesota GOP strategist Anton “Tony” Lazzaro in a sex trafficking scheme that allegedly targeted underage girls, officials said. Lazzaro was arrested in Minneapolis by FBI agents on Thursday hours before Gisela Castro Medina’s arrest, according to the Minnesota District Attorney’s office.
According to court documents obtained by Inside Edition Digital from May 2020 through December 2020, Medina and co-defendant Lazzaro, 30, allegedly conspired with each other and others to recruit and solicit six minor victims to engage in commercial sex acts. Medina was arrested in Okaloosa County, Florida, on Thursday night, according to the district attorney’s office.
On Monday, Medina made her initial appearance in federal court before Magistrate Judge Hope T. Cannon, in U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Florida. She faces seven federal charges including, one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, five counts of sex trafficking of minors, and one count of obstruction, according to the Department of Justice.
Attorney Randall Lockhart, a public defender, who represented Medina during her first court appearance, told Inside Edition Digital he had “No comment,” when asked about the case.
Earlier in the case, Medina’s identity was redacted from the federal indictment, which only named Lazzaro, but her indictment has since been unsealed, Kare11 News reported.
Medina will remain in Florida for the next two weeks before being transferred to Minnesota, where prosecutors will most likely ask for no bail. She is retaining a private lawyer, Kare11 News reported.
According to an unsealed indictment, Lazzaro faces five counts of federal sex trafficking charges for allegedly recruiting six minor victims to engage in commercial sex acts, Acting United States Attorney W. Anders Folk said in a news release.
The charges include one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, five counts of sex trafficking of minors, one count of attempted sex trafficking of a minor, and three counts of obstruction, the DOJ announced on Aug. 12.
Lazzaro had a federal court hearing scheduled for Monday but it was moved to Aug. 24. There is no set date yet for Medina’s next court hearing. She is being transported to Minnesota and it will be in the District of Minnesota, the DOJ told Inside Edition Digital.
Attorney, Zachary L. Newland released a statement to Inside Edition Digital on behalf of his client, Anton Lazzaro.
“It is always unfortunate when the federal government abuses its power. Especially when such abuse is utilized against the innocent. Mr. Lazzaro has been charged with horrible crimes. But they are crimes which he did not commit.” Newland said. “So, not only has Mr. Lazzaro been falsely accused, but, because of the seriousness of the charges and the overreaching by the government, he, an innocent man, could potentially spend the rest of his life behind bars if convicted on even one count, and each count comes with a 10-year mandatory minimum.”
He continued: “Mr. Lazzaro looks forward to clearing his good name. Until then, Mr. Lazzaro asks that the public withhold judgment so that the truth can be told.”
Republican Party of Minnesota Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan issued a statement on Friday stating that the Republican Party of Minnesota will donate Lazzaro’s financial contributions to some charities in southern Minnesota.
“If the allegations against Mr. Anton Lazzarro are true, this is an abhorrent act that we condemn in the highest possible terms,” Carnahan said.
Top legislators have called for the resignation of Carnahan, who was a close ally of Lazzaro, CBS Minnesota reported.
Medina describes herself online as a student at the Catholic University of St. Thomas who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, and works at a property management company. She also said she was chair of the university’s chapter of the Minnesota College Republicans, The Daily Beast reported.
The Minnesota College Republicans (MNCR) is a statewide umbrella organization of chapters at more than 40 colleges and universities in Minnesota. It has a membership of over 8,000 students statewide and is affiliated with the College Republican National Committee, according to its website. The organization sent out a statement on Twitter Saturday expressing their outrage.
“We as an organization are absolutely disgusted by the actions of Ms. Medina, and have cut all ties with her effective immediately,” the MNCR said.
The statement also stressed that Medina, who had recently assumed the role of Chair at the University of St. Thomas’ chapter, “was not an active member nor had she begun working in an official capacity,” at MNCR.
They continued: “Our prayers go out to the victims of Anton Lazzaro and Gisela Medina, we believe you. We stand you. May justice be served.”
The University of St. Thomas also responded with a statement on the news of Medina’s arrest. “The details of these allegations are very disturbing and saddening,” they wrote. “St. Thomas condemns these actions and we pray for the victims. Under our student code of conduct, St. Thomas students charged with a felony will be interim suspended pending further proceedings.”
Lazzaro, who was reportedly known for his luxe lifestyle of high-priced cars, led the political action committee, Big Tent Republicans, which was meant to appeal to people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community,
Medina and Lazzaro will both remain in custody pending further court proceedings, the DOJ said in a release.
Authorities believe there may be additional victims. Anyone with information on the case is encouraged to call the FBI Minneapolis Division at 763-569-8000.