On the stand, Tony Lazzaro admits to giving money to teen after sex, but denies it was transactional
One time Minnesota Republican political operative and top donor Tony Lazzaro testified in his own defense Tuesday in his sex trafficking trial. The 32-year-old faces federal charges of giving five girls, who were 15 and 16, cash and gifts in exchange for sex.
While admitting he did have sex with at least some of them, Lazzaro said he did not pay for sex or the recruitment of young partners.
Defense attorney Daniel Gerdts questioned his client about his online dating history, a key part of the government’s case against him.
Lazzaro said he joined SeekingArrangement, a site that connects generally wealthy men with younger partners, back in 2013. Lazzaro said it’s “no different” than other dating sites.
Grow the Future of Public Media
MPR News is Member supported public media. Show your support today, donate, and ensure access to local news and in-depth conversations for everyone.
Prosecutors allege Lazzaro met his co-defendant Gisela Castro Medina on this site and then paid the then-18-year-old to find other sex partners for him — including the five alleged victims who testified against him over the past few days.
But Lazzaro denied that characterization: “There was never ever an agreement to become my recruiter.”
Lazzaro said his relationship with Castro Medina was initially sexual, but it later became “almost a brother-sister relationship.”
He admitted having sex with a 16-year-old girl brought by Castro Medina to his downtown condo. This is the teen prosecutors have identified in court documents as Victim A. The woman, now 19, testified against Lazzaro Monday.
Lazzaro said he gave her money to buy a phone, but grew increasingly concerned about funding her drug use. He denied that he paid the teen for sex.
On the witness stand, Lazzaro also admitting having sex with a 15-year-old girl, identified as Victim C, who testified for the government last week.
“I thought she was a lot older than she was,” Lazzaro said in response to a question from Gerdts.
Lazzaro admitted giving the teen money, but denied that was a payment in exchange for the sex.
His attorney called Lazzaro to the stand after briefly questioning several other defense witnesses, including a desk clerk at the Hotel Ivy where Lazzaro lived, as well as a woman Lazzaro has been dating since late 2020.
Gerdts asked Lazzaro about his early childhood and upbringing in Santa Monica, California. Lazzaro said he never knew his father, but was very close to his mother, who taught Renaissance Italian literature at the University of Southern California, and his grandfather, who was an administrator there.
Lazzaro said he went to Brigham Young University for a time, but then returned to Los Angeles and started an Internet advertising business, which he said he did well financially.
He said he followed a girlfriend to Rapid City, South Dakota in 2015. The relationship didn’t work out, so he moved to Minneapolis. He branched out into other entrepreneurial activities, including real estate and day trading.
Prosecutors are expected to cross examine Lazzaro on Wednesday.