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Anton Lazzaro used his wealth to "buy what he wanted," and that was young, small, broken teen girls, federal prosecutors told jurors in Minneapolis at the start of his child sex-trafficking trial on Wednesday.

"This case is about a wealthy man who paid tens of thousands of dollars to have sex with minor girls," Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Provinzino said during the government's opening statement.

Defense attorneys for the 32-year-old once-rising Minneapolis GOP operative countered that Lazzaro was instead a generous but "socially awkward" computer nerd taken advantage of as he paid people for their company amid the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

"It's not about whether you like Tony, it's not about how he lived his life," defense attorney Thomas Beito said. "It's about whether he trafficked anyone."

Lazzaro is standing trial on six counts that include conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of five girls age 15 and 16 between May 2020 and December 2020, and one count each of sex trafficking of a minor.

During Wednesday's proceedings, Lazzaro sat with his two attorneys while wearing a suit and tie. He has been held in the Sherburne County jail since his August 2021 arrest on the charges alongside Gisela Castro Medina, a 20-year-old co-defendant who has since pleaded guilty and is expected to testify about helping recruit girls to have sex with Lazzaro for money and other goods. Medina is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 9.

Before opening statements, Chief U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz swore in the jury — 10 women and six men — assembled Tuesday. Schiltz will name four of them alternates before deliberation.

Provinzino displayed pictures of each of the five girls — four of whom were 16 when they met Lazzaro and one who was 15 — as she previewed the government's case on Wednesday.

According to prosecutors, Lazzaro met Medina and 16-year-old Victim A through Seeking Arrangements, a "sugar daddy" website that links young women with wealthy older men.

They were both allegedly paid for sex with Lazzaro at his Hotel Ivy condominium in May 2020. Provinzino said that while Lazzaro had sex with each of the two, the other watched a Disney movie in the living room. He later ordered McDonald's Happy Meals for them, Provinzino told jurors.

After that first encounter, prosecutors said, Lazzaro asked Medina to start recruiting other young girls for him online — something for which Medina received more than $50,000 from Lazzaro.

"He wanted small girls, skinny girls, the girls should be white ideally, and no tattoos," Provinzino said. "And it would be better if they were vulnerable."

Prosecutors gave jurors a look inside Lazzaro's 19th-floor condo to illustrate what the girls would see upon arrival: Framed photos of Lazzaro posing with celebrities, politicians and athletes. A bathroom with a television in the mirror. A well-stocked, high-end liquor cabinet. And above Lazzaro's bed hung a large gold mirror.

The first of five alleged victims took the stand Wednesday afternoon and described how she and other friends left a sleepover to be shuttled to Lazzaro's condo, where he served them Champagne and let them pose for photos with an assault-style rifle.

The girl, identified as Victim C, was 15 at the time and later had sex with Lazzaro after becoming drunk from high-proof Everclear liquor.

"I couldn't really do anything about it even though I wanted to get up and stop it or something," she said.

She testified that the third and final time she saw Lazzaro she became so drunk she "couldn't really function," though she remembered having sex with Lazzaro.

The girl said she met Lazzaro through Medina, with whom she first struck up a friendship on social media. Medina sent images of Lazzaro to the girl — including photos of him posing with former President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence — and billed him as being important, wealthy and fun.

"Looking back I wish I never met Gisela," Victim C testified. "I wish none of it happened."

Beito, on cross-examination, challenged Victim C about her testimony over not being excited to see Lazzaro after their first sexual encounter. Beito emphasized that Lazzaro did not threaten Victim C, and pointed out that the girl still got into his Ferrari when he personally picked her up for their last visit.

"Not because I wanted to but because I was a kid," she replied. "Despite him not threatening me, I did not know what would happen if I didn't [get in]."

Earlier Wednesday, jurors saw images taken from the FBI's raid of Lazzaro's home depicting boxes filled with flavored vapes, stacks of cash and stashes of Plan B pills that prosecutors said Lazzaro often gave the girls as he sent them home.

Beito responded Wednesday by telling jurors that Lazzaro was not the "cartoon character villain" he had been portrayed as.

The attorney walked jurors through Lazzaro's Southern California upbringing and pointed out his mother, Nancy, a former Italian literature professor seated in the courtroom who might later testify as a character witness for her son.

Beito said Lazzaro built his wealth online, sending customers to online retail businesses in exchange for a fee, and started investing in property, real estate, commodities and foreign currency. His political involvement sparked after volunteering for Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, and Lazzaro went on to attend Brigham Young University in Utah.

"Socially awkward" and stuck at home in Minneapolis during the 2020 pandemic, Beito said, Lazzaro started paying people "just to kind of hang out with them" and indeed had sex with some.

Lazzaro, who also went by Tony, was generous with a lot of people but "unfortunately he started to become a real mark to people," and some took advantage. Others grew jealous of his generosity, Beito said.

Beito said Victim A — Medina's friend — was responsible for creating the profiles on Seeking Arrangements. He said the girl was addicted to hard drugs and needed money.

"This isn't sex trafficking, ladies and gentlemen; those young ladies were there because they wanted to be," Beito said. "And at the end of the evidence you are going to see that Tony is not guilty of trafficking anyone."

Testimony resumes Thursday.