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Case Number: 0:21-cr-00173
Judge: Patrick J. Schiltz
Court: United States District Court for the District of Minnesota (Hennepin County)
Plaintiff's Attorney: United States Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis
Description: Minneapolis, Minnesota criminal defense lawyer represented the Defendant charged with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors.
From May 2020 through December 2020, Gisela Castro Medina, 21, conspired with co-defendant Anton Joseph Lazzaro, 32, to recruit and solicit six minor victims to engage in commercial sex acts.
The prosecution team, led by Assistant United States Attorneys Melinda Williams, Laura Provinzino and Emily Polachek, said, “Anton Lazzaro and Gisela Castro Medina have been held accountable for their crimes. This case has shown the reality of modern-day sex trafficking: wealth, privilege, and social media used as weapons to target and manipulate vulnerable youth. It’s been a long road and we are grateful to the victims for their strength and resilience throughout.”
According to court documents, in May 2020, Castro Medina met Lazzaro through the Seeking Arrangement website, which is known as a “sugar daddy” website. Lazzaro began communicating with Castro Medina and a minor victim and invited them to his condo at the Hotel Ivy in Minneapolis. Before arriving at the Hotel Ivy, Castro Medina told Lazzaro that the minor victim was only 16 years old. Lazzaro provided Castro Medina and the minor victim with alcohol and paid them $600 for commercial sex acts with him. Lazzaro continued to engage in commercial sexual acts with the minor victim and, on each occasion, Lazzaro paid her in the form of an envelope of cash. Half of each cash payment was for Castro Medina.
According to court documents, Castro Medina and Lazzaro continued to communicate via Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Signal. Lazzaro directed Castro Medina to use WhatsApp and eventually Signal because of the applications’ encryption and deletion features. Castro Medina used social media and her school, friend, and community networks to identify other minor girls for Lazzaro. Castro Medina would show Lazzaro photographs of minor girls and if Lazzaro “approved” Castro Medina would reach out to the minor and provide the minor’s contact information to Lazzaro. Castro Medina told the minors that Lazzaro was an older guy with a lot of money, and that he wanted to be a sugar daddy to younger girls.
Castro Medina admitted that, at the time of recruitment, she knew that the victims were minors and that Lazzaro paid the minor victims money in exchange for sex acts. Castro Medina also admitted that Lazzaro provided the minor victims with alcohol, vapes, food, smartphones, high-end purses, rooms in the Hotel Ivy, and transportation. For her role of identifying, recruiting, and introducing minors, Lazzaro compensated Castro Medina with cash and Venmo payments, as well as rent and utility payments for her apartment, tuition payments to the University of St. Thomas, car payments, travel expenses, and other items.
According to court documents, Castro Medina and Lazzaro discussed which of the minor victims spoke to law enforcement following the execution of federal search warrants in December 2020. Castro Medina admitted that in March 2021, she and Lazzaro aided and abetted one another to obstruct law enforcement by agreeing to pay off a 15-year-old victim to prevent her from talking to law enforcement about engaging in commercial sex with Lazzaro. Castro Medina picked up the minor victim at her place of employment, drove the minor victim around in her Mini Cooper, and provided her with hundreds of dollars in cash, gift cards, vapes, and alcohol from Lazzaro. Castro Medina also told the minor victim not to text Lazzaro anymore.
On December 19, 2022, Castro Medina pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors and one count of obstruction. She was sentenced today by Chief Judge Patrick J. Schiltz who stated that Castro Medina helped Lazzaro at “every step of the way.”
This case is the result of a joint investigation by the FBI and the Minnesota Human Trafficking Investigators Task Force – led by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations, the Minneapolis Police Department, the West Hennepin Public Safety Department, and the Wright County Sheriff’s Office.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Melinda A. Williams, Laura M. Provinzino, and Emily A. Polachek are prosecuting the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Baune is handling the seizure and forfeiture of assets.
18:1591(a)(1), 1591(b)(2), 1591(c), and 1594(c) CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT SEX TRAFFICKING OF MINORS
18:1591(d) and 2 AIDING AND ABETTING SEX TRAFFICKING - OBSTRUCTION
(a) Whoever knowingly—
(1) in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, or within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides, obtains, advertises, maintains, patronizes, or solicits by any means a person; or
(2) benefits, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a venture which has engaged in an act described in violation of paragraph (1),
knowing, or, except where the act constituting the violation of paragraph (1) is advertising, in reckless disregard of the fact, that means of force, threats of force, fraud, coercion described in subsection (e)(2), or any combination of such means will be used to cause the person to engage in a commercial sex act, or that the person has not attained the age of 18 years and will be caused to engage in a commercial sex act, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
(b) The punishment for an offense under subsection (a) is—
(1) if the offense was effected by means of force, threats of force, fraud, or coercion described in subsection (e)(2), or by any combination of such means, or if the person recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, advertised, patronized, or solicited had not attained the age of 14 years at the time of such offense, by a fine under this title and imprisonment for any term of years not less than 15 or for life; or
(2) if the offense was not so effected, and the person recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, advertised, patronized, or solicited had attained the age of 14 years but had not attained the age of 18 years at the time of such offense, by a fine under this title and imprisonment for not less than 10 years or for life.
(c) In a prosecution under subsection (a)(1) in which the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the person so recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, maintained, patronized, or solicited, the Government need not prove that the defendant knew, or recklessly disregarded the fact, that the person had not attained the age of 18 years.
(d) Whoever obstructs, attempts to obstruct, or in any way interferes with or prevents the enforcement of this section, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for a term not to exceed 25 years, or both.
(e) In this section:
(1) The term “abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process” means the use or threatened use of a law or legal process, whether administrative, civil, or criminal, in any manner or for any purpose for which the law was not designed, in order to exert pressure on another person to cause that person to take some action or refrain from taking some action.
(2) The term “coercion” means—
(A) threats of serious harm to or physical restraint against any person;
(B) any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in serious harm to or physical restraint against any person; or
(C) the abuse or threatened abuse of law or the legal process.
(3) The term “commercial sex act” means any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.
(4) The term “participation in a venture” means knowingly assisting, supporting, or facilitating a violation of subsection (a)(1).
(5) The term “serious harm” means any harm, whether physical or nonphysical, including psychological, financial, or reputational harm, that is sufficiently serious, under all the surrounding circumstances, to compel a reasonable person of the same background and in the same circumstances to perform or to continue performing commercial sexual activity in order to avoid incurring that harm.
(6) The term “venture” means any group of two or more individuals associated in fact, whether or not a legal entity.
Outcome: Custody of the BOP for 36 months concurrently with count 10; 5 years supervised release concurrently with count 10; $200 total special assessment; $10,000 JVTA assessment; restitution deferred.