NEW YORK — One week into Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex-trafficking trial, the jury has already been on board Jeffrey Epstein’s private jet and inside his Palm Beach mansion. But they’ve also seen the stained table on which he demanded three massages a day.
The deep immersion into luxurious, lascivious world of Epstein, who once managed money for billionaire Leslie Wexner, and Maxwell, the daughter of British publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell, is courtesy of prosecutors who are keen to show how young girls could be drawn in by the pair and then trapped in a cycle of sexual abuse. One of those alleged victims took the stand this week and said that was exactly what happened to her.
But most of the rest of the testimony came from Epstein’s former private pilot and Palm Beach caretaker who both described their boss’s endless needs and the parade of women in his life. Both denied any knowledge of abuse — the pilot said he thought one teenage girl was a “mature woman” — but the caretaker pointed to Maxwell as the person most responsible for catering to the desires of Epstein, her ex-boyfriend. According to prosecutors, that included procuring underage girls for him, and sometimes participating in their abuse herself.
Maxwell denies she was party to Epstein’s alleged crimes, and her lawyers called her “a convenient stand-in” since the man himself committed suicide in 2019 while awaiting trial on his own sex-trafficking charges.
The defense will get a chance to make its own case later in the six-week trial, but for now it’s been a series of government witnesses painting a picture of wretched excess and sexual predation. The 12 jurors, which include a home health aide and several public-sector employees, all denied having biases against wealthy people leading luxurious lives.
Here are the highlights from week one of U.S. v. Maxwell:
The first of four women expected to testify against Maxwell, the pseudonymous “Jane” took the stand on Tuesday afternoon and spent the next three hours describing her history with Maxwell and Epstein. When she met them, she was a vulnerable 13-year-old attending Michigan’s Interlochen Arts Camp the summer after losing her father to cancer. Epstein bragged about being a camp benefactor and asked her where she was from, Jane said.
“How convenient,” he said after learning she was from Palm Beach.
An invitation to his house there followed, and a chauffeur-driven car to pick her and her mother up after that, she said. “These giant gates opened up, and the car pulled in,” Jane recalled. “And it was just this, you know, big beautiful house.”
Jane said Epstein offered to mentor her and further her arts career. She started making regular visits to his house where she said Maxwell presented herself as “a big sister” and took her shopping. But Maxwell also started talking to her about sex and lay around the pool topless while she was around, Jane said. Maxwell and Epstein also bragged constantly about “how they were friends with essentially everyone, and they knew everyone.”
She said Epstein was telling her how he could use his connections to help her in life when he took her to the poolhouse during one of her visits. “ ‘I know everybody,’ ” she claims he said. “ ‘I know all the agents. I know all the photographers. I know, you know, the owner of Victoria’s Secret. So I can make things happen, but you just have to be ready for it.’ ”
Then he abruptly stopped talking and proceeded to masturbate on her, she said.
After that first assault, more followed, she said, with Maxwell sometimes present. On cross-examination, defense lawyer Laura Menninger aggressively challenged Jane’s memory of those events and suggested her testimony was motivated by a desire to enlarge a $5 million civil settlement from Epstein’s estate.
But Jane’s story fits a pattern outlined by the prosecution’s expert psychologist Lisa Rocchio, who testified that abusers often “groom” their victims by winning their trust and confidence and then normalizing the abuse.
Pilot Lawrence Visoski Jr. was the first witness called in the case after opening statements on Monday. He mainly described Epstein’s jet-set lifestyle flying among his five homes, which included one of the largest townhouses in Manhattan, a private island in the Caribbean and a New Mexico ranch along with the Palm Beach house. Often a celebrity or politician was along for the ride in one of Epstein’s three jets, which included an airline-sized Boeing 727.
Flying on a private jet allowed Epstein and his guests to circumvent the usual screening protocols, Visoski said. They could typically just drive onto the tarmac and board the plane.
“There’s a lot more freedom when you fly private,” he said.
Visoski, who worked for Epstein for nearly 30 years, testified that he met Maxwell in late 1991. “She managed his household staff during the time Mr. Epstein was acquiring a lot of his residences and it took a lot of managing and decorating,” the pilot said.
He also met Jane, though he told jurors that he thought the girl with striking blue eyes Epstein brought to the cockpit one day in Palm Beach was a “mature woman.” Visoski testified he never saw an underage girl fly in one of Epstein’s planes without a parent present and that Epstein gave him 40 acres from his New Mexico ranch to build his own house in 2000.
Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion caretaker for more than a decade, Juan Alessi, testified on Thursday and Friday that Maxwell and Epstein partied with hundreds of topless women at his poolside over the years. He also took jurors through a 58-page book of rules explaining how to meet the needs “of Mr. Epstein, Ms. Maxwell and their guests.”
The book, which was entered into evidence on Thursday, contains detailed checklists and responsibilities such as ensuring guest rooms were stocked with “fresh flowers,” a “selection of fresh fruit” and “Jeffrey Epstein large and small notepads on” bedside tables. It even specifies the brands of toiletries to be supplied in bathrooms — Secret deodorant and Kiehl’s lip balm for guests, La Mer moisturizer and Lancome Exfoliance gel for Maxwell. In the master bedroom, a gun was to be placed in a bedside drawer.
The book also demands discretion. “Remember that you see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing, except to answer a question directed to you,” it reads. Alessi said he interpreted that section as “a kind of warning that I was supposed to be blind” and to “say nothing of their world.”
Maintaining that veil of secrecy was especially important because Alessi was privy to many of his boss’s activities. Among his tasks was helping Maxwell schedule Epstein’s massages, as many three times a day by the time Alessi left the job in 2002. “It was a massage in the morning, a massage in the afternoon and a massage after the movies,” Alessi said. “They were scheduled to come anytime, at 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock at night.”
And while the door was closed during these “massages,” Alessi said he would go in afterward to “clean up” not just towels towels but also sex toys, costumes and porn. Jane testified earlier that Maxwell showed her the type of sexualized massage Epstein enjoyed, and the green-baize-topped table on which those massages took place was introduced into evidence on Friday afternoon.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.