Lurid photos from Jeffrey Epstein home barred by judge

The prosecution in the Ghislaine Maxwell sex trafficking trial suffered a series of setbacks Friday as Maxwell’s lawyers successfully challenged a key witness’ testimony and persuaded the judge to exclude FBI photographs of Jeffrey Epstein’s New York mansion.

Maxwell, seated at the defense table with her bevy of lawyers, appeared elated at day’s end, smiling with her arm around one of her attorneys, Bobbi Sternheim.

It was the fifth day of testimony in what is expected to be a six-week trial in federal court in Manhattan. Maxwell, 59, is accused of recruiting minors to be sexually abused by Epstein at his homes in New York, Palm Beach and at his ranch in New Mexico between 1994 and 2002.

Epstein died in jail in August 2019 as he was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Authorities ruled the death a suicide.

On Friday, the defense and prosecutors argued before the start of court over whether jurors should be permitted to see lurid photographs that were taken by police during a 2005 raid of Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion.

The police photographs were images of framed pictures in his home that showed a partially clad prepubescent girl.

Home 03 Epstein EKM.jpg
Police say dozens of underage girls visited Jeffrey Epstein’s home on El Brillo Way in Palm Beach. In addition to that residence, Epstein owned homes in New York City, in New Mexico and one on a private island in the Caribbean. Emily Michot

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurene Comey said the photographs are relevant because they are “evidence of Jeffrey Epstein’s lifestyle” that “contradicts the public persona presented by the defense.”

On the first day of trial, Sternheim called Epstein a “21st century James Bond” who was charismatic and generous.

Judge Alison Nathan ultimately allowed two of the framed Palm Beach photographs to be shown to the jury — one of them an image of the girl laying over Epstein’s lap, her bottom exposed and Epstein pretending to bite her.

But the prosecution lost a round when Nathan excluded photographs taken by the FBI in a 2019 search of his New York mansion.

While the images mostly depict what an accuser in the case described as the “dark and creepy” decor she saw in a visit to the house in 1994, prosecutors revealed Friday that the FBI also found a bag of “very small” schoolgirl costumes near Epstein’s massage room.

Nathan agreed with the defense that prosecutors failed to lay a proper foundation as to how photographs taken in 2019 were relevant to crimes committed 25 years earlier — nor did prosecutors explain what they had to do with Maxwell.

The photographs should have been shown to one of Maxwell’s accusers, who is known under the pseudonym “Jane,” to get her to testify whether the home depicted in the 2019 police photographs was roughly the same mansion she visited in 1994 when she was 14.

“You could have and should have shown her the photographs after her testimony,” Nathan said.

The judge, however, left the door open for prosecutors to come up with another way to get the photographs admitted as evidence.

Also on Friday, defense attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca seized upon several discrepancies in the testimony of Epstein’s former Palm Beach house manager, Juan Alessi. Alessi was called by prosecutors to set the stage for how Maxwell allegedly helped facilitate sex massages for Epstein. Alessi was a critical witness because he testified that Maxwell recruited young women and at least one 16-year-old girl from luxury spas around Palm Beach.

A day earlier, Alessi admitted on direct examination that he illegally entered Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion about a year after he resigned from his job. He said he stole $6,300 in one-hundred-dollar bills from a bag in Epstein’s office.

“It was the worst thing I ever did in my life,” Alessi testified, trying to explain. He claimed he was under financial strain, he apologized and repaid the money. Epstein never pressed charges.

But Pagliuca asked Alessi whether there was another time he stole money from Epstein.

“Never,” Alessi said firmly.

“Isn’t it true that you went to Epstein’s house to steal a gun, and you went there twice to steal money?” Pagliuca said.

Alessi paused.

“I don’t remember,” he said.

“Didn’t you tell police you stole the money to pay for a friend’s immigration papers?” Pagliuca said, quoting from an earlier sworn statement where Alessi talked about stealing the money to pay for his girlfriend’s immigration papers.

Alessi: “I was trying to help her…”

It also turned out that at the time of the thefts Alessi owned almost $1 million in real estate.

“All my life I worked very hard and saved my money,” Alessi said plaintively.

“But you weren’t poor,” Pagliuca said.

This story was originally published December 3, 2021 8:36 PM.

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Julie K. Brown is a member of the Miami Herald’s Investigative Team, specializing in criminal justice. She was the winner a 2014 George Polk Award for her investigations into corruption and abuse in Florida state prisons.
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