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Minnesota political operative charged in child sex trafficking conspiracy

Anton Lazzaro recently worked on the 2020 campaign for Republican candidate Lacy Johnson in Minneapolis.

A Minneapolis man who worked as campaign manager for a Minnesota congressional candidate in 2020 has been indicted on federal sex trafficking charges.

Anton "Tony" Lazzaro, 30, is accused of recruiting six children to engage in sex acts for money between May and December 2020.

He was arrested by FBI agents on Thursday and made his first court appearance later. He 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.

What's more, the U.S. Attorney's Office of Minnesota says that authorities believe "there may be additional victims of the alleged conduct," and allege that Lazzaro "knowingly and intentionally interfered" with the investigation as the net closed in.

The indictment also mentions a second person is under investigation as a co-conspirator, but they have yet to be arrested.

Among the properties seized by authorities and now subject to forfeiture are Lazzaro's condo, a 2010 Ferrari convertible that has featured in several of his Instagram posts, more than $370,000 in currency, and numerous computers, tablets, thumb drives, and cellphones.

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The Daily Beast reports that the FBI raided Lazzaro's "luxury condo" at the Hotel Ivy building in downtown Minneapolis this past December.

Lazzaro, who lives in Minneapolis, is the CEO of the global consulting firm Gold River Group. 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.

On his website, Lazzaro touts appearances on the conservative platforms Fox News and Newsmax TV, as well as the Russian-owned RT America channel. He also posted photos of himself with former president Donald Trump, former vice president Mike Pence, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and FOX News host Tucker Carlson.

Lazzaro identified himself in 2020 as the campaign manager for 5th District Republican candidate Lacy Johnson, a title that was mentioned in multiple articles over the course of and in the wake of the election campaign.

Following the arrest, Johnson has denied that Lazzaro was his campaign manager, instead saying he worked in an advisory role during the early part of his campaign.

A statement from Johnson's lawyer states:  "Lacy never agreed to Mr. Lazzaro taking the title of campaign manager and never formalized Tony in that role. When articles referred to Tony as campaign manager, what happened was Mr. Lazzaro would take calls from media, make up a title or confirm he was the campaign manager, and provide quotes and information without ever alerting Lacy. Any article where Mr. Lazzaro referred to himself as Campaign Manager or any other official role with the campaign was a claim he made without any confirmation or permission from Lacy."

When initially contacted by the Daily Beast, Johnson said Lazzaro had never told him about the raid or the investigation, adding: "I don’t know that side of Tony. He’s young, he’s got money, and … that tends to attract females."

More than $12 million was spent by the Johnson campaign in 2020, according to campaign filing reports, which is more than twice the amount spent by his opponent, Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Johnson's campaign attracted big donations from conservatives as he was going up against Omar, one of the Republican Party's most popular political attack targets.

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