A 19-year-old University of St. Thomas student and chairwoman of the school's Republican chapter made her first court appearance Monday on charges that she aided a prominent Minnesota GOP activist in a conspiracy to traffic minors for sex.
The judge also unredacted a grand jury indictment Monday, officially identifying Gisela Castro Medina as the person who is accused, along with 30-year-old Anton "Tony" Lazzaro, of recruiting and trafficking underage victims for commercial sex acts.
The allegations against the two state GOP activists are part of a ballooning scandal that shook Republican Party politics in Minnesota. Lazzaro's ties to GOP Chair Jennifer Carnahan have prompted calls for her resignation.
The state party's executive board voted Sunday to conduct an audit of the party's finances, including its ties to Lazzaro, who has made dozens of contributions to local and statewide GOP party units over the years. State campaign finance records show Lazzaro has contributed more than $83,000 to Republican campaigns.
A letter from Carnahan on Monday said that the party plans to set up a separate account to place all funds from Lazzaro and donate them to charity. She continued to distance herself from Lazzaro, who she co-hosted a podcast with, saying the party has "thousands" of donors.
"Some give us as little as $5, while others donate hundreds of thousands," Carnahan wrote. "We are extremely grateful for every contribution we receive, but there is no way for us to know the personal background of every contributor to our party."
Carnahan, who was elected in April to her third term leading the state party, also said she will ask the Republican Party's executive board to take a vote of confidence in her during their regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday.
Medina was previously identified as the alleged co-conspirator in jail documents after law enforcement in Okaloosa County, in Florida's Panhandle, arrested her on a charge of being a fugitive from justice. Her last known address was listed on Cretin Avenue in St. Paul, where St. Thomas is located.
In a courtroom in Pensacola, Fla., on Monday, Medina spoke sparingly, answering basic questions from Magistrate Judge Hope Cannon and stating her name and birthdate for the record.
She waived her right to an identification hearing, in turn acknowledging that she is the person named in the charges, and said she has retained a private defense attorney to represent her. She will be transferred to Minnesota — the district in which she is charged — for future court proceedings.
Medina has not entered a plea, which is typical at this stage. Victims of the alleged conspiracy were listening to the hearing via teleconference.
Medina is charged with seven counts of obstruction of justice, sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of underage victims, according to the indictment, which does not provide a detailed account of the allegations. Lazzaro faces 10 charges related to trafficking minors and obstruction.
In its statement, the St. Thomas Republican chapter said of its leader: "Our prayers go out to the victims of Anton Lazzaro and Gisela Medina — we believe you. We stand with you. May justice be served."
Both will remain in custody pending a formal detention hearing. Lazzaro's hearing has been rescheduled for Aug. 24.