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Lazzaro back on the stand as sex trafficking trial nears a close

Prosecutors grilled the sex trafficking defendant with a batch of damning new evidence received overnight from Lazzaro's former friend.

MINNEAPOLIS — On the anniversary of the death of Jeffrey Epstein, the most infamous sex trafficker in the United States, Tony Lazzaro allegedly texted to a friend: "Poor Jeff. RIP my brother."

That text exchange is part of a batch of damning messages, photos, and videos received by prosecutors late Tuesday night by Lazzaro's former friend in Texas, Charles Bittman.

One photo shows three teenage girls lying face down on Lazzaro's bed. The photo had been described in prior testimony, but prosecutors apparently did not have a copy of it. In his direct examination Tuesday, Lazzaro denied its existence, saying that he was taking a selfie.

Prosecutors redacted the photo with a black bar across their bottoms when showing it in court because of its explicit nature.

"I'm ain't keeping this up here for long, but that ain't a selfie," said prosecutor Melinda Williams.

Then after denying again and again that he asked his co-defendant Gisela Castro Medina to recruit teenage girls to have sex with him, Williams showed the jury a text Lazzaro sent Bittman in which he refers to Castro Medina as his recruiter.

Other videos sent to Bittman show drunken teens stumbling around, dancing in lingerie, and standing in Lazzaro's bedroom telling the camera, "We're virgins."

Proceedings were late getting started Wednesday due to a scheduling issue. 

Lazzaro announced his intention to testify in his own defense Tuesday afternoon as his legal team began constructing its case. 

Defense attorneys called a handful of witnesses, including Lazzaro's current girlfriend Kira Costal, before calling the defendant to the stand. The team indicated Lazzaro will be its final witness. 

During testimony, Tuesday Lazzaro told jurors about his childhood in California, and said his journey to the Midwest started by moving to South Dakota with someone he met on the dating website "Seeking Arrangement." When they broke up he relocated to the Twin Cities. 

Lazzaro testified that Seeking Arrangement is no different than the dating site "Match.com" except it is tailored to rich people. He talked about meeting co-defendant Gisela Castro Medina on the site, then talked with her on phone and was drawn to her. He said his relationship with her was "brother-sister-like." He disagrees with her "father-figure" characterization of him.

Lazzaro said the conversation or meeting with Castro Medina where he asked her to be his recruiter of girls never happened. "That never ever took place," Lazzaro testified.

On Wednesday afternoon, Lazzaro listed several names of females he said Castro Medina introduced to him. Lazzaro said he bought gifts for them but did not have sex with them.

Lazzaro compared his contacts with females to multi-level marketing tiers where one person introduced him to another who introduced him to another.

"It was unusual... these people all contacting me and wanting to hang out or at least wanted something from me," Lazzaro testified.

During cross-examination, prosecutor Melinda Williams asked Lazzaro if he had sex with 15 and 16-year-old girls. "No," Lazzaro answered. "I had sex with a 15-year-old girl who lied and said she was 17."

Lazzaro told Williams he is no longer a wealthy man and he did not pay 16-year-old girls for sex.

The judge became upset with Lazzaro on the stand. Judge Patrick Schiltz told him "Mr. Lazzaro, I want you just to answer the question that is asked" and "let your lawyers do the lawyering."

After a short break, Williams questioned Lazzaro about serving alcohol to a 16-year-old alleged victim, while at the same time not drinking. "You kept your wits about you? But them, not so much," Williams said.

Williams asked Lazzaro about putting on "The Lion King" and "Finding Nemo" for Gisela Castro Medina and a 16-year-old alleged victim for the two times they came over together. "I think Gisela liked Disney stuff," Lazzaro said.



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