Anton Lazzaro, the Minnesota GOP strategist charged last year with sex trafficking of minors, is arguing in a court filing that he's being singled out for prosecution due to his wealth and public profile and that the case against him should be dismissed.
Lazzaro also argued in the motion filed in U.S. District Court that he was not paying females for sex, but merely giving them expensive presents before they "hooked up."
Prosecutors have yet to file a motion in response to Lazzaro's arguments for why the case should be thrown out.
The 31-year-old Minneapolis entrepreneur, whose political ties sent a shock wave through the Minnesota GOP after his arrest last year, faces 10 charges related to trafficking minors and obstruction of justice.
In lengthy testimony in August, Minneapolis Police officer Brandon Brugger described a conspiracy in which Lazzaro paid underage girls for sex in cash, and groomed them with presents such as a Prada purse, alcohol, vape pens and cellphones.
Brugger also said Lazzaro paid former University of St. Thomas student Gisela Medina in cash, travel and high-priced champagne to help recruit young girls for him on social media. Lazzaro and Medina, who was 19 years old at the time of her arrest last summer, have both pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Defense attorney Zachary Newland wrote in his motion that prosecutors were "twisting an otherwise innocent, legal behavior into criminal conduct. Unbeknownst to Mr. Lazzaro, several of the young women he previously dated were approached by government agents, who convinced them that they were not on dates, but in effect, escorts engaged in prostitution."
In arguing that Lazzaro was singled out for prosecution, the defense motion contended that "never has the government gone after a [young man] engaging in consensual relationships with young women for sex trafficking based on the theory that giving gifts (admittedly expensive ones) to his dates amounted to a commercial sex act."
In a separate filing last week seeking to have the charges dismissed involving females under age 18, Lazzaro's defense argued they were older than 15, "and the age of consent for sexual activity in Minnesota is 16."
The defense said that Lazzaro's lofty status among state GOP leaders as a generous donor to the Republican Party further drew unwarranted attention from federal authorities.
"Mr. Lazzaro's prominent public profile from his political activities certainly did not help to make the target on his back any smaller for the government," Newland wrote in his motion. "The government's decision to charge Mr. Lazzaro as a 'child sex trafficker' in federal court was based on the impermissible consideration of his socio-economic status."
The defense argued that several examples of the government's own on-the-record statements prove the government was selectively prosecuting Lazzaro because of his wealth, including when it pointed out in one court filing that his client has a net worth of more than $2 million, and possesses precious metals worth more than $500,000 and large amounts of foreign currency.
"This was not the only time that the government tried to weaponize Mr. Lazzaro's wealth and public persona in their prosecution," the defense continued.
Lazzaro remains in federal custody in the Sherburne County jail. His next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 17.