ST. PAUL, MINN. (WCCO) — Anton Lazzaro will remain in jail until his trial on federal sex trafficking charges, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, after a police officer testified that the top Republican donor paid underage girls for sex with cash and gifts.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer, citing the nature of the charges, rejected the request of Anton “Tony” Lazzaro’s defense who sought pretrial home confinement in his downtown Minneapolis condo. Instead, Lazzaro will remain detained. He pleaded not guilty to all 10 charges against him.

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The detention hearing Tuesday at the St. Paul federal courthouse provided the first window into the state and federal joint investigation that led to a grand jury indictment charging Lazzaro, 30, and alleged co-conspirator Gisela Castro Medina, 19, with sex trafficking of minors.

Brandon Brugger, an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department who works on a state human trafficking task force, testified that Lazzaro would pay 16- and 17-year-old girls — and at least one who was 15 — with cash, designer purses, makeup and vape pens in exchange for sex acts.

He described Lazzaro as the “sex buyer” and Medina — a University of St. Thomas student and recent chair of the College Republicans chapter there — as the “recruiter” of victims, a connection she first made through social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.

He said Lazzaro would have Ubers pick up the girls and take them to his residence in the Hotel Ivy. The investigation began after law enforcement received a tip from a victim and her parents saying that she had been trafficked, Brugger told the court.

Anton Lazzaro during Tuesday’s hearing (credit: Nancy Muellner)

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Prosecutors said Lazzaro asked one 16-year-old victim and her father to sign a non-disparagement agreement to prevent reporting to police.

The defense failed in fulfilling its request for home confinement ahead of a trial. Court documents detailed the proposal would have included six cameras in his residence, creating “a real-life ‘Truman Show’ scenario.”

Zachary Newland, the defense attorney for Lazzaro, said that his client was not a flight risk because he didn’t flee after the initial search warrant and raid of his condo in December 2020.

“Anton Lazzaro didn’t commit sex trafficking,” Newland said.

Doug Kouns, a former FBI agent the defense summoned as a witness, testified that Lazzaro’s attorneys asked him to conduct a security assessment for home confinement back in February, months before the federal indictment.

The court offered a teleconference line for victims and their families to listen to proceedings. U.S. Attorney Laura Provinzino read aloud letters from victims and their families, pleading that the judge keep Lazzaro detained and writing that they lived in fear and suffered trauma.

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One letter, from the mother of “Victim A,” wrote that her daughter has “been living a life of hell.”

Caroline Cummings