The fourth day of testimony in the sex-trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell began with an expert witness describing how sexual abusers prepare, or “groom,” their prospective victims and concluded with an insider’s view of life at Jeffrey Epstein’s Palm Beach home.
That perspective was provided by Juan Alessi, 71, who said he had been a property manager at the Palm Beach home from about 1990 until 2002.
On the stand, Mr. Alessi read from a 58-page document titled “Household Manual” that listed ground rules for employees. Among other things, the manual told workers to “try to anticipate the needs of Mr. Epstein, Ms. Maxwell and their guests,” forbade them from discussing their personal problems with guests and instructed them: “Remember, that you see nothing, hear nothing say nothing except to answer a question direct to you. Respect their privacy.”
Mr. Alessi testified that he believed that section of the manual constituted “a kind a warning.”
“I was supposed to be blind and dumb,” he said. “To say nothing of their lives.”
Here are some takeaways from the trial.
A prosecution witness described how abusers “groom” child targets.
Dr. Lisa Rocchio, a clinical psychologist, testified that adults who sexually abuse children commonly engage in a process that can be thought of as having five basic steps: (1) selecting a victim, (2) obtaining access to and isolating the victim, (3) using “lies and deception and manipulation” to build “trust and attachment,” (4) desensitizing a victim to physical and sexual touching, and (5) maintaining control to coerce the victim into accepting continued abuse.
Dr. Rocchio said that “grooming” process could include giving gifts, building rapport through expressions of concern, bringing up sexual subjects in conversation and slowly escalating sexualized physical interactions with prospective victims.
The testimony offered jurors a way to link Maxwell to Epstein’s abuses.
Dr. Rocchio’s testimony was meant to bolster the government’s case by establishing that Ms. Maxwell played a key role in making girls vulnerable to Mr. Epstein.
The testimony dovetailed with the prosecution’s description of Ms. Maxwell in its opening statement: “The defendant took these girls on shopping trips, asked them about their lives, their schools, their families. She won their trust. She discussed sexual topics with them. She helped normalize abusive sexual conduct. She put them at ease and made them feel safe all so that they could be molested by a middle-aged man.”
A former employee at Epstein’s Palm Beach home detailed Maxwell’s pervasive control.
Mr. Alessi, who worked at the Palm Beach property for some 12 years, testified about the strict rules that Ms. Maxwell put in place there, from the placement of phone directories (always to the right of the telephones) to sharp limits on employees’ behavior.
Employees were never to look Mr. Epstein in the eye, even while answering a question from him, Mr. Alessi said. They were, however, to keep watch for any holes in the property fence that Ms. Maxwell’s Yorkie, Max, might escape through. (Max went everywhere with Ms. Maxwell, even on Mr. Epstein’s private jet. “The poor dog shake like crazy,” Mr. Alessi, who is from Ecuador, testified. “Because she didn’t like to be in the plane.”)
The employee recalled many young, topless women at the estate.
It was common for young women to visit Mr. Epstein in Palm Beach, Mr. Alessi said. “Many, many many females” showed up at the home, he testified, adding that most of them appeared to be in their 20s.
Women arrived to lounge by Mr. Epstein’s pool on hundreds of occasions, Mr. Alessi said. They were topless almost 80 percent of the time, he estimated.
Among those that visited the house were two girls who Mr. Alessi said appeared to be underage. One of them, now an adult, appeared on the stand earlier this week, identified only as “Jane.” She testified that Mr. Epstein had sexually abused her for years, starting when she was 14.
Mr. Alessi remembered Jane vividly. She was, he said on the stand, a “strikingly beautiful girl, beautiful eyes, long hair, long brunette hair, tall, very pleasant.”