By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Ghislaine Maxwell's defense attorneys on Friday questioned a former Jeffrey Epstein employee about when he met a woman who testified earlier this week that the British socialite set her up for abuse by Epstein starting when she was 14 in 1994.
Juan Alessi, who worked full-time at Epstein's Palm Beach estate from 1991 to 2002, said at Maxwell's sex abuse trial in Manhattan federal court that he saw two girls who appeared underage spend time with Epstein and Maxwell. He said one of those girls was Jane, the woman who testified this week.
Maxwell, 59, has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of sex trafficking and other crimes. Prosecutors accuse Maxwell of recruiting and grooming underage girls for Epstein to abuse, and say she participated in some of the encounters.
Alessi said on Thursday he met Jane in 1994, the same year Jane said she met Epstein and Maxwell and was first abused. He said Jane appeared to be 14 or 15 when he first saw her at the Florida property.
But upon cross-examinaton by the British socialite's attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca during the fifth day of testimony on Friday, Alessi said he could not recall precisely which year he met her in. Pagliuc then asked whether Alessi met Jane in 1998 or 2000 - when she could have been of legal age to consent.
"No, that's not true," Alessi said.
Pagliuca then referred to a 2016 deposition Alessi gave to a lawyer for Virginia Giuffre, who accuses Maxwell and Epstein of trafficking her for sex while she was a teenager, in which Alessi said he recalled picking her up and driving her to Epstein's house in 1998 or 1999.
Alessi replied that he could have been confusing Jane and Giuffre in the deposition. He said on Thursday that he recalled meeting Giuffre, formerly known as Virginia Roberts, in approximately 2001.
Alessi's account came after Jane, now in her early 40s, testified that she had regular sexual contact with Epstein while she was a teenager and that Maxwell took part in some encounters.
Jane is the first of four Maxwell accusers expected to testify in the trial. Maxwell's attorneys questioned Jane about discrepancies between her testimony and earlier statements she made during interviews with law enforcement agents, and have said the women's memories have become distorted over time.
Maxwell's attorneys also argue she is being scapegoated for Epstein's alleged crimes since the globetrotting investor is no longer alive.
Epstein, a globetrotting financier, killed himself in a Manhattan jail in 2019 at the age of 66 while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Sandra Maler and Alistair Bell)