A woman accused of participating in an underage sex trafficking conspiracy with a Minnesota Republican operative has pleaded guilty to two charges. She is expected to testify in an upcoming trial.
Gisela Castro Medina, 20, pleaded guilty Monday to two federal charges at a change of plea hearing before Judge Patrick J. Schiltz in Minneapolis. Medina, the former University of St. Thomas College Republicans chair, admitted to finding girls on social media and arranging meetings with Republican donor and commentator Anton “Tony” Lazzaro, as well as trying to pay the victims not to speak out.
Prosecutors allege Lazzaro lured five victims for sex and attempted to lure a sixth between May and December 2020. Lazzaro has been in custody since federal authorities arrested him at his Minneapolis apartment in August 2021. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, aiding and abetting sex trafficking of a minor, and related obstruction charges.
As Medina entered her guilty pleas to two charges Monday, her defense attorney read a series of factual allegations from the investigation, which Medina affirmed under oath in court.
Medina admitted to working closely with Lazzaro, age 30 at the time of his arrest, to recruit minors tailored to his specific tastes — including compiling photos of girls for her co-defendant to choose from. According to a statement she affirmed in court, one of the victims was 15 years old at the time of the offense.
Medina affirmed that she met Lazzaro through the website identified as “Seeking Arrangement” — also known as Seeking.com — a website often used by wealthier older men and younger women to connect for “sugar daddy” relationships.
According to the plea agreement read in court, Lazzaro had paid $600 to have sex with Medina and an underage girl when he and Medina first met. Medina eventually stopped engaging in sexual acts and became a recruiter. She said Lazzaro, at one point, had promised to buy her a house and help pay for graduate school.
Medina was arrested in Florida in August 2021 and initially pleaded not guilty to all her charges. She has stayed in a halfway house since entering her plea, though she has been able to obtain short releases for holidays.
She’s charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, which carries up to a life sentence in prison. A related obstruction charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
At the absolute minimum, Medina will be required to pay the restitution to victims and serve five years of supervised probation. She already has $20,000 set aside to begin making payments, Schiltz said.
Schiltz said he’d have to review sentencing guidelines himself before making a decision and that any preliminary agreement reached between the prosecution and defense on sentencing is no guarantee.
With Medina’s guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and a related obstruction charge, the rest of the charges will be dismissed at sentencing, which is expected after Lazzaro’s trial, which is scheduled to begin on March 20.
Lazzaro’s indictment on sex trafficking charges led to upheaval in the Minnesota Republican Party. His close association with former party chair Jennifer Carnahan contributed to her resignation in August 2021. Carnahan condemned Lazzaro’s alleged actions and denied knowledge of any illegal activity.