A federal judge says GOP political strategist Anton Lazzaro must remain in jail as he prepares his defense against sex-trafficking charges, citing "very troubling" testimony that Lazzaro made veiled threats to law enforcement and prosecutors after being arrested earlier this year.
While being transported by police, Lazzaro told Minneapolis officer Brandon Brugger he knew where he lived, and that he'd tried but failed to find personal information about an FBI agent — whom Lazzaro called a "ghost" — according to Brugger.
"There is no legitimate reason — none — for Lazzaro to be collecting home addresses and other personal information about the law enforcement officers involved in his case," wrote U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz in an order filed Tuesday. "And Lazzaro's telling Officer Brugger that he knew where he lived was clearly an attempt to threaten and intimidate him."
Lazzaro also said Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Provinzino was "going to regret this," according to Brugger.
"Although it is not entirely clear why Lazzaro was saying that Provinzino would 'regret' pursuing criminal charges against him, the Court can conceive of no legitimate reason for Lazzaro to make such a threatening remark to an arresting officer," wrote Schiltz.
Lazzaro, a 30-year-old whose political ties sent a shock wave through the Minnesota GOP after his arrest, faces 10 charges related to trafficking minors and obstruction. In lengthy testimony in August, Brugger described a conspiracy in which Lazzaro paid underage girls for sex in cash, and groomed them with presents such as a Prada purse, alcohol, vape pens and cellphones. Brugger said Lazzaro paid former University of St. Thomas student Gisela Medina, 19, in cash, travel and high-priced champagne to help recruit young girls for him on social media. Lazzaro and Medina have both pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Lazzaro argued he should be permitted to remain on lockdown at his high-rise apartment in downtown Minneapolis, which was fitted with cameras. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer denied the request, citing Lazzaro's wealth as a reason for him being too much of a flight risk. Lazzaro has since been incarcerated at Sherburne County jail.
Schiltz's order disagreed with Bowbeer's reasoning for keeping Lazzaro detained, finding prosecutors did not adequately prove that no set of circumstances could reasonably assure Lazzaro's appearance in court to answer for his crimes. "The government has established little more than that Lazzaro is a wealthy man who is facing serious charges," wrote Schiltz. "Needless to say, those circumstances are not — in and of themselves — sufficient to justify the detention of Lazzaro" under the law.
But Schiltz ultimately arrived at the same outcome. In addition to the comments about law enforcement and prosecutors, he also cited testimony that Lazzaro had tried to stop his alleged victims from cooperating with law enforcement.
According to Brugger's testimony, Lazzaro offered to pay $1,000 to the family of a young girl in exchange for signing a nondisclosure agreement. He also messaged one of them "basically saying, 'I didn't realize you were 15. I'm sorry. ... [P]lease don't say anything.' " Medina and her boyfriend later went to the girl's workplace and offered her "a bottle of alcohol and cash" in exchange for her silence, according to Brugger.
"The Court is unable to identify any set of conditions that will reasonably assure that Lazzaro will not continue in his efforts to influence his alleged victims and threaten and intimidate government officials," concluded Schiltz. "In the Court's experience, it is possible [albeit difficult and expensive] to monitor a defendant's physical location and physical contact with others. It is nearly impossible, however, to monitor all of a defendant's electronic communications, given the numerous ways that a defendant can communicate [directly and indirectly] with others."
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036