Anton Lazzaro, a young Republican strategist and former congressional campaign manager in Minnesota, was arrested on underage sex trafficking charges Thursday morning, according to federal law enforcement.
Lazzaro, an occasional Fox News guest who flaunted his wealthy lifestyle on social media, was indicted on five counts of sex trafficking of a minor, one count of attempting to do so, and three counts of obstruction of justice. The FBI confirmed its agents had arrested Lazzaro in Minneapolis this morning. And the indictment was unsealed in federal court Thursday afternoon during his initial appearance in federal court in St. Paul, Minnesota, which took place over a video conference.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Becky R. Thorson ordered that Lazzaro remain jailed until a court hearing next week, after prosecutors claimed six victims had asked for additional protection from Lazzaro.
“It’s their strong wish that the United States proceed with a recommendation of detention,” Thorson said of the alleged victims.
The indictment accuses Lazzaro of having “recruited” at least five underage victims for paid sex between May and December last year, and trying to entice a sixth. It also says he “knowingly and intentionally interfered” with the investigation as it closed in on him.
The feds have yet to arrest a second person under investigation, who is mentioned as a co-conspirator in the indictment but not identified.
The FBI raided Lazzaro’s luxury condo in mid-December last year, and agents had sought evidence concerning whom he had brought home into the Hotel Ivy residences in downtown Minneapolis, according to three sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Law enforcement served the condo building’s management company with a search warrant seeking Lazzaro’s bank records and video surveillance footage a week before the raid, according to a person with direct knowledge. The search warrant appears in federal court records but remains sealed. The prosecutors working on this case did not return phone calls seeking further detail.
When asked about the investigation last month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to provide any information about the matter. The FBI at the time would only confirm that it had conducted “court-authorized law enforcement activity at that location” this past December.
In a phone conversation with this reporter last month, Lazzaro confirmed that his apartment had been searched in December but did not acknowledge the nature of the investigation, simply claiming that “someone made a false accusation against me.”
“There's no charges, no case, nothing political,” he said, adding that the “matter was regarding a totally unrelated incident that's now almost resolved, essentially.”
Lazzaro claimed that his defense attorney in this case had subcontracted the prominent lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a one-time Harvard Law School professor who has advised former President Donald Trump and ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. However, Dershowitz denied that to The Daily Beast.
“It's just not true,” Dershowitz said.
The 30-year-old entrepreneur served as the campaign manager for GOP candidate Lacy Johnson, who ran an unsuccessful bid in 2020 to unseat Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Johnson told The Daily Beast that his former campaign manager never told him about the raid or the investigation. Johnson said Lazzaro never discussed his personal dating life.
“I don’t know that side of Tony. He’s young, he’s got money, and… that tends to attract females,” Johnson said.
Johnson expressed dismay that he first heard details about the criminal probe from a journalist, as opposed to his trusted adviser.
Johnson described first meeting Lazzaro at a statewide GOP caucus. He later launched his campaign with the younger political operative at his side in 2019. Federal election records list Lazzaro’s own political action committee, Big Tent Republicans PAC, as an affiliated organization of Johnson’s campaign.
Lazzaro’s PAC has funneled more than $22,000 to political committees in California, Minnesota, Michigan, and New Mexico, according to federal election records. Nearly half of the relatively small PAC is funded by Lazzaro himself, whom associates describe as a young investor with a particular interest in the digital currency Bitcoin.
Lazzaro has cast himself as a next-generation Republican with “more modernized views,” as he told Minnesota’s Star Tribune last year. On his website, Lazzaro says his PAC “looks to redefine the Republican Party specifically to minority, LGBT, and women” who he acknowledges have been “neglected by his own party.”
He has donated to Republicans for nearly a decade, but his contributions have ramped up sharply since 2016.
His personal website shows him alongside Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, as well as multiple television appearances on Fox News. On social media, Lazzaro shows himself sitting on private jets, waving stacks of cash, and driving shirtless in his red Ferrari.
Last year, he was on the shortlist of Minnesota’s presidential electors for the Republican Party as an “alternate” who could substitute for any missing delegates, according to state election records.
In a brief interview in July, Lazzaro claimed The Daily Beast had “intercepted” information about the case it should not have received and threatened to sue this reporter. Lazzaro revealed that he secretly recorded the phone call and asserted that he would buy the domain name “JosePaglieryNews.com” to release audio of the call. After the interview, Lazzaro sent an email with a screenshot indicating he had already purchased six similar domains with that intent.
“There's nothing to this case. It's not some Matt Gaetz or whatever you think this is,” he said.
His Dallas-area defense attorney, Zachary L. Newland, declined to provide details about the alleged sex crime being investigated or the ongoing discussions with federal prosecutors. In mid-July, he told The Daily Beast that his legal team is still “in the dark” because it had yet to receive copies of law enforcement paperwork explaining what agents have found.
Newland did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday. But in an earlier interview, he had said, “We look forward to clearing Mr. Lazzaro's name… I think he's innocent. They don't have a provable case here.”