The University of St. Thomas chapter chair of the Minnesota College Republicans was arrested this week in connection with federal sex trafficking charges, alongside GOP donor Anton Lazzaro, according to a statement from the organization.
Gisela Castro Medina was arrested on suspicion of being a fugitive from justice Thursday in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., according to records from the Okaloosa County, Fla., sheriff’s office.
She was wanted by the Minneapolis FBI. She was found at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center, according to her arrest record. The sheriff’s office lists her last known address as an apartment building next to the St. Thomas campus in St. Paul.
A second person was indicted along with Lazzaro this week on obstruction of justice, sex trafficking, and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of underage victims, but the name in the indictment was redacted.
In the Minnesota College Republicans’ statement on Saturday, the organization said they were “disgusted” by her alleged actions and have cut ties with her effective immediately.
“While Ms. Medina had recently assumed the role of Chair at the University of St. Thomas’ chapter, she was not an active member nor had she begun working in an official capacity on behalf of the Minnesota College Republicans,” the statement said. “Our prayers go out the victims of Anton Lazzaro and Gisela Medina — we believe you. We stand with you. May justice be served.”
The growing scandal has rattled the statewide GOP apparatus and is shining a spotlight on the Republican Party of Minnesota, whose chair had close ties to Lazzaro.
Several top Minnesota Republicans are grappling with the charges against Lazzaro by rerouting his campaign donations toward victims’ rights charities.
Late Friday, state Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, became the first elected official to call for the resignation of GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan.
“Carnahan’s close, ongoing relationship with him (Lazzaro) is troubling to say the least. … That relationship is cause enough for Carnahan’s resignation,” Chamberlain said in a statement.
Carnahan, who has made no indication she plans to leave willingly, released a statement Saturday that sought to distance the party from Medina’s arrest.
“The arrest and charges involving Ms. Gisela Castro Medina, in conjunction with Thursday’s arrest and sex trafficking charges of Mr. Anton Lazzaro are heinous and disturbing,” her statement read. “Conviction of these charges warrants punishment to the fullest extent of the law and we fully anticipate justice will be served.
“While we work for the same cause, the Republican Party of Minnesota has no jurisdiction over the Minnesota College Republicans, including the chapter at the University of St. Thomas. Minnesota CR chapters are independently run organizations.”
Inside the party, rumblings are growing against Carnahan, who, during her tenure, has boasted of fundraising victories but has also amassed a quiet but vehement army of detractors. At least some of those critics contend she has muzzled her critics by using nondisclosure agreements, two former party officials told the Minnesota Reformer.
The party’s executive committee met Friday with the possibility of addressing the scandal, several officials have said. No action was taken, but that hasn’t ended it. The group plans to meet again Sunday, and several members said Saturday that they plan to take action — although nothing is certain.
Bobby Benson, who chairs the party’s Sixth Congressional District, released a statement Saturday that “Lazzaro had his tentacles all over the MNGOP.” Benson was planning to support a call for a financial audit. Benson also said he plans to seek to have anyone with an NDA with the party released from it.
Lazzaro has been a supporter of Carnahan since she was elected party chair in 2017. The pair co-hosted a state party podcast starting in the fall of 2020.
Complicating the intraparty web is the fact that Carnahan is married to U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-1st), the largest Minnesota recipient of Lazzaro contributions — at least $21,000. Hagedorn has said he’ll donate that amount to charity.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis alleges that Lazzaro conspired with others to recruit and solicit six people under the age of 18 to engage in commercial sex between May and December of 2020.
The 30-year-old Minneapolis resident managed the campaign of Republican Lacy Johnson, who made an unsuccessful bid in the 5th District to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar last year. He is being held in the Sherburne County jail. Lazzaro’s attorney Zachary Newland said Lazzaro is being falsely accused and did not commit the crimes he’s charged with.
This report contains information from the Associated Press.