Minnesota College Republicans cut ties with student, 19, charged with GOP donor over sex-trafficking ring

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Minnesota College Republicans cut ties with a 19-year-old woman and university chapter leader for the group after she was recently apprehended in Florida and charged in connection to a sex trafficking operation allegedly spearheaded by a prominent Minneapolis-based GOP strategist and donor.

Gisela Castro Medina, the now former Minnesota College Republicans chair at the University of St. Thomas, was arrested at a hospital in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. She was wanted by the FBI Minneapolis Field Office as an out-of-state fugitive from justice. 

Medina is facing charges in connection to an underage sex trafficking operation allegedly led by 30-year-old Anton Joseph Lazzaro, also known by “Tony Lazzaro.” He was arrested separately last week. 

Both are scheduled to make appearances in federal court on Monday. 

“We as an organization are absolutely disgusted by the actions of Ms. Medina, and have cut all ties with her effective immediately,” Minnesota College Republicans said. “Our prayers go out to the victims of Anton Lazzaro and Gisela Medina – we believe you. We stand with you. May justice be served.” 

Medina recently assumed the role of chair at the University of St. Thomas’ chapter and she “was not an active member nor had she begun working in an official capacity on behalf of the Minnesota College Republicans,” the organization said in a statement. 

From May 2020 through December 2020, Lazzaro allegedly conspired with others to recruit and solicit six minor victims to engage in commercial sex acts, according to an indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. It’s unclear whether Medina was charged as his co-conspirator, whose name was redacted in court documents. 

Lazzaro has been charged with 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. His defense attorney, Zachary Newland, said Lazzaro denies the charges, adding to the Minneapolis Star Tribune that, “It is always unfortunate when the federal government abuses its power.”

Anton Joseph Lazzaro, 31, and Gisela Castro Medina, 19, are both facing charges in connection to the alleged sex trafficking of minors. 
(Sherburne County Jail/ Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office)

Minnesota GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan also reacted to Medina and Lazzaro’s arrests. 

“The arrest and charges involving Ms. Gisela Castro Medina, in conjunction with Thursday’s arrest and sex trafficking charges of Mr. Anton Lazzaro, are heinous and disturbing. Conviction of these charges warrants punishment to the fullest extent of the law and we fully anticipate justice will be served.

“While we work for the same cause, the Republican Party of Minnesota has no jurisdiction over the Minnesota College Republicans, including the chapter at the University of St. Thomas. Minnesota CR chapters are independently run organizations,” Carnahan said, according to Fox 9 Minneapolis. “We stand with victims of sex trafficking and encourage anyone with information to contact the FBI Minneapolis Division at 763-569-8000.”

This comes after four state GOP House lawmakers sent a letter last week calling for Carnahan’s resignation, arguing there is a deep rooted conflict of interest because Lazarro was her close, personal friend, and the Minnesota Republican Party must move forward with an independent audit into donations handled by Lazarro or any PAC with which he is affiliated in order to restore public trust. 

“We have an elected leader with toxic conflicts of interest surrounding herself with a board that fails to act. Chair Carnahan needs to resign,” the letter, signed by Republican state Reps. Steve Drazkowski, Tim Miller, Cal Bahr and Jeremy Munson, said.  “There are simply too many questions about actions taken under watch as the leader. Answers will only be trusted if there is no conflict of interest by those leading, investigating and reporting.” 

“The news of a close, personal friend and advisor to our state party chair being indicted and arrested for heinous crimes against children doesn’t just look bad. It is bad,” the letter continued. “It affects members, volunteers, and donor’s ability to trust the integrity of our organization.” 

U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who is married to Carnahan, as well as other GOP politicians in Minnesota who accepted campaign contributions from Lazzaro in the past, have vowed to donate those contributions to various charities serving women and victims of sex-trafficking or domestic abuse, the Star Tribune reported. 

Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party Chair Ken Martin said the overall total GOP take from Lazzaro amounted to more than $150,000.

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