A Minneapolis Republican strategist and political donor recruited six minors to engage in sex for money over several months last year, according to a federal indictment.
The FBI arrested Anton "Tony" Lazzaro on Thursday on charges of conspiring with others to recruit and solicit the minors to engage in commercial sex acts.
Lazzaro, 30, is 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 of justice.
Lazzaro appeared in federal court and remained jailed pending a hearing Monday.
"Mr. Lazzaro has been charged with horrible crimes … which he did not commit," his attorney, Zachary Newland, said in a statement. "So, not only has Mr. Lazzaro been falsely accused, but because of the seriousness of the charges and the overreaching by the government, he, an innocent man, could potentially spend the rest of his life behind bars if convicted on even one count, and each count comes with a 10-year mandatory minimum.
"Mr. Lazzaro looks forward to clearing his good name and continuing to work for the betterment of his community."
The indictment ordered Lazzaro to forfeit numerous items, including "real property" at the Hotel Ivy in Minneapolis, a 2010 Ferrari and $371,240 seized at the hotel.
The indictment did not specify the ages or genders of the minors. It included another person as a co-defendant, but that identity was redacted.
Authorities said there may be more victims.
In a statement Friday morning, state Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan wrote, "If the allegations against Mr. Anton Lazzaro are true, this is an abhorrent act that we condemn in the highest possible terms. The Republican Party of Minnesota will be donating the contributions that Mr. Lazzaro has given our organization to charity.
"Sex trafficking is a heinous act that preys on victims of all ages, races, and backgrounds, and warrants severe punishment by our judicial system. A full investigation is necessary to ensure due process is provided to all parties involved."
The DFL Party said late Thursday that Lazzaro has donated about $150,000 to Minnesota Republican candidates, party units and allied organizations. DFL Chairman Ken Martin called on recipients to donate the money specifically to anti-trafficking organizations.
GOP state Sen. Karin Housley called the allegations "disturbing and troubling" and said she was donating her contribution from Lazzaro to the Women's Foundation of Minnesota for their "Our Girls Are Not For Sale" program. The DFL put that amount at $1,500.
Lazzaro was campaign manager for Lacy Johnson, who ran unsuccessfully last fall against U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis. He also was a Minnesota delegate at the GOP National Convention in 2020.
Lazzaro founded Big Tent Republicans PAC, which describes itself on its website as "dedicated to broadening the base and appeal of the Republican Party."
State records show he also runs Minneapolis-based Gold River Group, which according to its website is involved in marketing and technology.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482