MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A now-suspended student at the University of St. Thomas who was the chair of her college’s GOP chapter appeared in federal court Monday, facing charges that she conspired with a top Republican donor and activist to traffic minors for sex.
Gisela Castro Medina, 19, and Anton “Tony” Lazzaro, 30, face federal charges for allegedly recruiting six minor victims to engage in commercial sex acts, federal prosecutors say.
A federal judge in Florida — where Medina was arrested last week and had her first court appearance — unsealed the indictment naming her as a co-defendant who allegedly aided Lazzaro, whose charges were announced publicly last week by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota.
Medina 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. The FBI believes there could be more victims and encourages people with more information to come forward.
The sex trafficking allegations have rocked the Minnesota GOP in the last several days. Lazzaro gave tens of thousands of dollars to Republican campaigns, party units and political action committees in recent years, and his close ties to Jennifer Carnahan, the state party chairwoman, have prompted calls for her resignation.
Paul Gazelka, the top Republican in Minnesota Senate who’s mulling a bid for governor, said in a tweet Monday that he’s deferring to party officials to make a decision on her leadership.
Several Republicans and the state party have now vowed to donate Lazzaro’s contributions to charity. Carnahan so far has refused to step aside; she calls the attacks on her a “coordinated coup.”
“It sets a dangerous precedent for our organization and the future of our country to assume ‘guilt-by-association,’” Carnahan wrote in a letter to executive committee members in the party. “I had no direct knowledge or was in any way involved with the alleged criminal activities undertaken by Mr. Lazzaro.”
In that same letter, she asked that they take a vote of confidence or no confidence in her ability to lead during their next meeting. She was recently elected for a third term as chairwoman.
Charging documents do not detail how Medina and Lazzaro knew each other. According to her social media pages, she worked at MN Property Management Company, a business for which Lazzaro is listed as a “registered agent,” according to state records.
Lazzaro through his lawyer denies the allegations against him. Medina will be retaining private counsel and only answered basic questions asked of her in court, like identifying herself and her birth date. Alleged victims were listening to the court proceeding by teleconference.
Medina will be transported to Minnesota from Florida for future court proceedings and will remain in custody. Lazzaro remains in custody pending a formal detention hearing that was originally scheduled for Monday, but is moved to August 24.
The University of St. Thomas said in a statement that its code of conduct says students charged with a felony “will be interim suspended pending further proceedings.”
Minnesota College Republicans in a statement condemned the allegations against Medina, the chair of St. Thomas’s GOP chapter. The group said it’s “absolutely disgusted by the actions of Ms. Medina, and have cut all ties with her effective immediately.”