Anton Lazzaro, the Minneapolis GOP donor charged with federal child sex trafficking crimes, is again asking a judge to dismiss his indictment over claims that he is being singled out for prosecution based on his wealth and political activity.
Lazzaro, indicted on 10 counts of child sex trafficking charges, has gone through multiple legal teams while filing a volley of motions to drop his charges since his arrest more than a year ago. Federal prosecutors last week filed their own rebuttal against his latest effort to get the case thrown out.
"In filing this motion, Defendant Lazzaro continues his well-documented pattern of lodging unsupported allegations and personal attacks," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Polachek. "His motion has no basis in fact or in law."
Lazzaro first asked a judge to dismiss charges on similar grounds in January, alleging that he was being prosecuted based on his wealth and prominent status as a major Republican donor. He fired most of those original attorneys weeks later before the second iteration of his legal team withdrew that argument over his objections.
Days later, Lazzaro fired those lawyers and his new representation, led recently in legal arguments by attorney Daniel Gerdts, revived those claims last month in addition to arguments that investigators improperly listened to jailhouse call recordings between Lazzaro and his attorneys.
Lazzaro argued that he was selectively prosecuted because he was the only person facing federal prosecution from among the "hundreds of tips" to the National Human Trafficking Hotline and that others were prosecuted for prostituting minors at the state level. Polachek countered that he has a co-defendant, Gisela Castro Medina, who is also still in custody and awaiting trial.
Medina was a college student with minimal political activity and very few assets when she was arrested, Polachek said, yet she faces many of the same charges — "thereby demonstrating that the defendant was not selectively prosecuted."
Lazzaro is also arguing that he is the "object of a vindictive prosecution" because of the government's disapproval of his relationship with a far younger woman.
"Indeed, this case is so far removed from the 'archetypal case' … that it begs the question: What motivated the Government to charge it in the first place?" Gerdts wrote in an Aug. 19 memo to the court. "The answer is that it was selectively and vindictively chosen for prosecution based on improper, unjustified, and arbitrary standards, and because of the malicious motivation to punish Lazzaro for his exercise of protected political speech."
Gerdts pointed to the government's awareness of Lazzaro's political activities before his indictment, including public allegations of fraud he levied against U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar. Gerdts wrote that Lazzaro was scheduled to appear on Tucker Carlson's Fox News program "to reveal the bombshell evidence he uncovered" on the day he was arrested.
Investigators seized $1.5 million in gold, silver and currency from Lazzaro during a search warrant operation. They also took a Ferrari convertible.
"In short, the Government's selection of Mr. Lazzaro as a suitable target for prosecution, in contrast to the hundreds of other similarly situated candidates, was based on avarice, and the knowledge that he was a wealthy man whose assets could be converted to the use of the Department of Justice through the seizure and forfeiture of those assets under the guise of a legitimate prosecution," Gerdts wrote.
Polachek countered that the government has since returned the currency and precious metals and has retained only electronic devices and the Ferrari.
The selective and vindictive prosecution arguments join another ongoing effort by Lazzaro to bar an FBI specialist from participating in the prosecution because she allegedly listened to privileged attorney-client calls recorded while he has been held in Sherburne County Jail awaiting trial.
Prosecutors said six calls accessed by the FBI were the result of accidental "mis-clicks" on a spreadsheet of calls in which the specialist selected calls associated with an attorney's phone number that hadn't been identified as such.
The specialist, Mary Cunningham, immediately closed out of the recordings, according to court filings and testimony. A seventh recording was accessed by a BCA analyst, who listened to 10 seconds of a call before closing the recording upon hearing a name similar to one of Lazzaro's attorneys.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Melinda Williams, in a memo filed with the court after a hearing last month, argued that Lazzaro "all but concedes there is no basis in law or fact to find that government intruded into his attorney-client relationship." She said he now seeks only to stop Cunningham from being involved in the case because she monitored calls between Lazzaro and a brother who is an attorney but not affiliated with the defense team.