Some Republican lawmakers in Minnesota have started distancing themselves from Anton "Tony" Lazzaro, the 30-year-old political strategist with a high-flying lifestyle who on Thursday was charged with multiple federal counts of child sex trafficking.
Lazzaro was taken into custody by FBI agents, with charges saying he recruited six minors to engage in sex for money over the course of 2020, and also sought to obstruct an investigation into his alleged actions.
His lawyer, in a statement to the Star Tribune, said Lazzaro denies the allegations, saying he has been "falsely accused" and alleges he's the victim of "overreaching by the government."
But in the wake of Lazzaro's arrest, it quickly emerged that he had made significant political donations to Minnesota Republicans in 2020, with the Minnesota DFL publishing a list of those who received money from the 30-year-old political operative, who most recently was an advisor on the campaign for 5th District GOP congressional candidate Lacy Johnson, with his Big Tent Republicans PAC receiving more than $32,000 from the Johnson campaign.
A short time after, Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, announced she would be donating the $1,500 her campaign received to the Women's Foundation of Minnesota for its "Our Girls Are Not for Sale" campaign, calling the allegations against Lazzaro "disturbing and troubling."
Similarly, 6th District Rep. Tom Emmer, whose campaign received a $15,600 donation from Lazzaro, said he would be donating the funds to Alexandra House and Anne Marie's Alliance, saying: "I have always sought to support victims of trafficking and work to put an end to this heinous practice."
Commenting on Friday morning was Minnesota GOP chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan, with whom Lazzaro had a seemingly close relationship, with the pair collaborating on a political podcast called #TruthMatters, the last episode of which was released in January 2020. MPR News reports Lazzaro was also part of the team that helped her become state party chair in 2017.
Her husband, 1st District Rep. Jim Hagedorn, received what appears to be so far Lazzaro's largest known political donation in 2020, a sum of $31,000. The trio were also pictured at a 2017 Minnesota Vikings game shared on Lazzaro's Facebook page.
"If the allegations against Mr. Anton Lazzaro are true, this is an abhorrent act that we condemn in the highest possible terms," she said, noting that the Republican Party of Minnesota will be donating campaign contributions received from Lazzaro.
Minnesota Attorney General candidate Doug Wardlow, who received $1,150 from Lazzaro, has said he will also be donating the contribution to the Women's Foundation of Minnesota.
Others who have received donations from Lazzaro include 8th District Rep. Pete Stauber ($8,000), 7th District Rep. Michelle Fischbach ($1,000), House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt ($1,000), and 2020 3rd District GOP candidate Kendall Qualls, who received $4,800 from Lazzaro's Big Tent Republicans PAC.
Lacy Johnson, who challenged Rep. Ilhan Omar in the 5th District last year, has issued a longer statement after initially being quoted by the Daily Beast as saying: "I don’t know that side of Tony. He’s young, he’s got money, and … that tends to attract females."
Charging documents reveal displays of wealth
The charging documents filed against Lazzaro reveal a search was conducted in December of his condo at the Hotel Ivy Residences in downtown Minneapolis, which according to a real estate listing is a 2,200-square-foot luxury corner unit with an estimated value of $870,000.
The grand jury indictment reveals more details of the items in Lazzaro's possession, with assets seized and potentially subjected to forfeiture including a 2010 Ferrari Convertible, which is featured in several posts on Lazzaro's Instagram page, with one post showing him shipping the car to Los Angeles ahead of Minnesota winter.
Another Instagram picture shows him sitting on top of a private jet, with the caption reading: "I don't always fly private, but when I do I sit on top." A caption in a separate post involving a private jet reads: "Never fly private ... it makes commercial flying even worse."
Further examples of the lavish wealth attained by the 30-year-old include the seizure of $371,000 in U.S. cash from his condo, with sums in other currencies including 5,150 Euros, 14,000 Japanese Yen, 245 UAE Dirham, and 1,330 in Hong Kong currency.
Two pictures posted on his Instagram account show Lazzaro holding wads of cash.
But it wasn't just cash either, with FOX 9's Tom Lyden obtaining federal documents that show authorities also seized quantities of gold, including a one-kilo bar (current value of around $57,000), a 10-ounce bar ($18,600), a five-ounce bar ($9,300), and 269 one-ounce bars (combined $430,000 value).
An unusually large number of electronic devices seemingly belonging to Lazzaro are also subject to forfeiture, including 15 cellphones of varying models, a GPS tracker, three tablets, four thumb drives, 14 SD storage cards, and three laptop computers.
Lazzaro's website shows the level of access his role in the GOP afforded him, prominently displaying pictures of him appearing as a regular guest on FOX News, as well as those taken at events with famous Republicans, including former President Donald Trump and former VP Mike Pence, Sens. Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio, and Mitt Romney, former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and FOX News Host Tucker Carlson.
His Twitter account reveals he spent New Year's Eve 2019 in Ukraine, where he posted a video urging an investigation of now-President Joe Biden's son Hunter, whose past employment in the Eastern European nation formed a major part of Trump's 2020 campaign strategy.
Lazzaro is listed as the CEO of the Gold River Group, a Minneapolis-based company that its website describes as "serving professionals with the latest proprietary custom marketing and technology solutions."
"We specialize in the securities, family office, energy, and political industries," it notes.
In 2018 he founded the Big Tent Republicans PAC, with the stated goal of broadening the Republican voting base by being more inclusive of women and minorities, noting that "we MUST act now to preserve our party’s great values such as low taxes, less government regulations and less government in our daily life."