Feds seek 7 years for Lazzaro accomplice

Published 5:56 am Thursday, August 24, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Matt Sepic, Minnesota Public Radio News

Prosecutors are seeking a seven-year prison sentence for a woman who sought out and groomed five teenage girls for convicted sex trafficker Tony Lazzaro.

Gisela Castro Medina, 21, pleaded guilty to charges of sex trafficking and obstruction, and spent a full day on the witness stand testifying against Lazzaro during his March trial. She faces sentencing Sept. 5.

Email newsletter signup

At an Aug. 9 hearing, Judge Patrick Schiltz sentenced Lazzaro, 32, to 21 years in federal prison, short of the 30-year term that the Minnesota U.S. Attorney’s Office had sought.

At the time Lazzaro paid the teens for sex, from May to December of 2020, four were 16 years old and one was 15. All five victims also testified at his trial.

Though Castro Medina cooperated with the government, Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Polachek writes in a court filing that because Castro Medina was close in age to the victims, she “played a crucial and despicable role” in Lazzaro’s scheme, and “was an effective recruiter” who could “translate Lazzaro’s ‘cringy,’ dated and money-focused texts into cool invitations that made going to Lazzaro’s condo seem fun, safe and exciting. Castro Medina, however, served the girls up to a predator.”

Unlike Lazzaro, Castro Medina spent only a brief time in jail since her Aug. 2021 arrest and remains free.

In a separate filing, defense attorney Elizabeth Duel asks Schiltz to sentence her client to time served and supervised release. Duel writes that Castro Medina cooperated with investigators, accepted responsibility, and admitted at trial that her actions were “disgusting” and “should never have happened.”

Duel also notes that Castro Medina “grew up in a house where she was neither loved nor supported” and was subject to “horrific physical and emotional abuse” that led to self harm and multiple suicide attempts.

Duel writes that Castro Medina’s difficult childhood led her to become financially and emotionally dependent upon Lazzaro, and she viewed him as a “father figure.”