MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota GOP donor Anton Lazzaro used his wealth and political connections to coerce a 16-year-old into sex and then attempt to pay her family for their silence, according to allegations in a new lawsuit filed Tuesday, Sept. 7.

Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul-based attorney well-known for suing the Catholic church for child abuse, announced the lawsuit in a news conference, calling 30-year-old Lazzaro an audacious predator who served as "ringmaster" of the sex-trafficking enterprise. The girl posted allegations about Lazzaro on social media in July 2020, and Lazzaro proposed paying her and her parents $1,000 in "hush money" to sign a nondisclosure agreement, according to the lawsuit.

Instead, the family reached out to Anderson's firm, which helped them report the behavior to law enforcement, Anderson said.

"How many more are there out there that have been silenced and intimidated?" Anderson asked. "It's really scary what they did and tried to do here."

Lazzaro is being held in jail while facing a 10-count federal indictment alleging he paid underage girls — some as young as 15 — for sex in cash, and groomed them with presents such as a Prada purse, alcohol, vape pens and cellphones. Anderson praised the Minnesota U.S. Attorney's Office for investigating and charging Lazzaro, and asked any other victims to come forward to law enforcement.

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Lazzaro's attorney, Zachary Lee Newland, did not respond immediately to a request for comment. But Newland has maintained his client's innocence in criminal proceedings, dismissing the allegations as anonymous and without merit.

The lawsuit describes Lazzaro as a "politically connected and wealthy adult," citing his public friendship with Jennifer Carnahan, who resigned from her post as GOP chairwoman after charges against Lazzaro went public.

"Lazzaro often flaunted his wealth and high-powered political connections to the public and on social media," the complaint states. "For example, Lazzaro posted pictures of himself carrying tens of thousands of dollars in cash, sitting atop a private jet, and driving in his Ferrari. Lazzaro's image could be found online next to several noteworthy politicians, political figures, and prominent members of the media."

Using this power, Lazzaro allegedly recruited 19-year-old Gisela Medina, since-ousted chair of the University of St. Thomas College Republicans, to find underage girls and solicit them for "for his perverse and predatory pleasure" in exchange for money and gifts, according to Anderson. Medina is charged as Lazzaro's co-conspirator in the criminal case.

After the teenager posted allegations about Lazzaro on social media, two St. Paul-based lawyers acting on behalf of Lazzaro tried to "silence this victim and this family" through money and threats of a lawsuit for defamation, said Anderson. The proposed nondisclosure agreement admits "Mr. Lazzaro and [the teenager] had a consensual interaction in the recent past," he said.

Lazzaro's behavior inflicted psychological trauma on the unnamed teen and her family and they "will continue to incur expenses for medical and psychological treatment, therapy and counseling," according to the lawsuit.

"Tony Lazzaro and Gisela Medina — they stole her freedom for profit," said Stacy Benson, another attorney for Anderson's firm. "And hopefully through this process, [she] can get and recover the power and the control that was stolen from her as a child."

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