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A former University of St. Thomas student pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges that she recruited underage girls for a sex trafficking conspiracy at the behest of a prominent Minnesota political operative.

Gisela Castro Medina, 19, made her first appearance in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, more than a month after law enforcement arrested her in the Florida Panhandle. While Medina prepares her defense, U.S. Magistrate Judge Becky Thorson released her to home GPS monitoring on conditions of abstaining from alcohol and drugs, submitting to substance abuse and mental health treatment and avoiding all victims or witnesses in the case, including co-defendant Anton Lazzaro.

Prosecutors for the U.S. Attorney's Office did not challenge the release, though they called Medina a "flight risk" and said the alleged victims "did not want her out."

Medina did not speak at the hearing, other than to answer the judge's routine questions.

Medina is charged with seven counts of obstruction of justice, sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of underage victims. Lazzaro, a 30-year-old with deep ties to high-powered GOP party members, faces 10 charges related to trafficking minors and obstruction.

In a detention hearing for Lazzaro last month, prosecutors said Medina served as a "recruiter" who found underage girls on Snapchat and brought them to Lazzaro for sexual encounters. In exchange, Lazzaro paid Medina in cash, travel and high-priced champagne, according to prosecutors. He also gave her a job at his property management company. He paid part of her tuition in exchange for Medina tutoring his girlfriend in high school algebra, prosecutors said.

Medina also aided in trying to silence the victims, in one case showing up at a young girl's workplace and saying Lazzaro had money and a "team of lawyers" to fight allegations, prosecutors say. She then offered the alleged victim alcohol and money in exchange for her not talking to authorities, according to prosecutors.

Lazzaro has also pleaded not guilty. A federal judge denied his request to be released to home detention last month.

Police arrested Medina in Florida on charges of being a fugitive from justice, then transported her to Minnesota on a bus to face the indictment here.

In court Thursday, her attorney, Ryan Garry, said Medina had attempted to fly back to Minneapolis to turn herself in when she learned of the charges, but there was a "complication" at the airport.

"But her intentions were genuine," said Garry. "She fully intended to surrender to the custody of the FBI."

Garry said Medina planned to "cooperate fully" with the conditions of her release.

Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036