MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A St. Thomas University student accused along with a prominent Minnesota GOP donor of child sex trafficking pleaded not guilty to numerous charges Thursday in federal court.
Gisela Castro Medina, the former chairwoman of the Minnesota college’s Republican Party chapter, made her initial appearance virtually before U.S. Magistrate Judge Becky Thorson, who agreed to a request by lawyers on both sides that allows Medina to await trial at a halfway house.
Medina, who was arrested in Florida in August, answered a series of yes or no questions from the judge and said she understood the conditions of her pretrial release, which include GPS monitoring.
Court documents allege that Medina and Republican operative Anton Lazzaro conspired to recruit and solicit people under the age of 18 to engage in commercial sex between May and December of 2020. Lazzaro has pleaded not guilty. His attorney has said he is being falsely accused and did not commit the crimes.
Federal prosecutors allege Medina acted as Lazzaro’s recruiter, reaching out to girls on social media and setting up meetings with Lazzaro. Medina is also accused of trying to buy the silence of the girls once Lazzaro learned they were underage.
Lazzaro has connections to prominent Minnesota Republicans, including U.S. Congressman Jim Hagedorn, who represents SE Minnesota, as part of the 1st District. Lazzaro also managed the campaign of Republican Lacy Johnson, who made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar last year.
The former leader of the Minnesota Republican Party and Lazzaro’s close friend, Jennifer Carnahan — Hagedorn’s wife — resigned from her post last month after Lazzaro was charged in federal court.
She had been under pressure to step down before the indictment was unsealed and insisted she knew nothing about the allegations against him.