Former Maxwell assistant, psychologist testify in sex crimes trial

© Agence France-Presse

Ghislaine Maxwell's defense attorneys, Laura Menninger (L) and Jeffrey Pagliuca (R) arrive at the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse in New York City

New York (AFP) - Ghislaine Maxwell's former assistant testified at the British socialite's sex trafficking trial on Thursday that she never saw her employer or the late financier Jeffrey Epstein engage in any inappropriate behavior with underage girls.

Cimberly Espinosa, 55, was the first witness called by the attorneys defending Maxwell against charges of enticing and transporting minors for sex.

The 59-year-old Maxwell is accused of grooming underage girls to be sexually exploited by her long-time partner Epstein, who killed himself in jail two years ago while awaiting trial.

Espinosa, who worked as Maxwell's assistant from 1996 to 2002, responded "never" when asked by a defense attorney whether she had ever seen Maxwell or Epstein engage in any inappropriate activity with underaged girls.

She added though that she had not visited all of Epstein's properties.

Espinosa told the court she was hired when she was 28 years old to work as an administrative assistant with Epstein's legal team. After about a month she switched to become Maxwell's assistant.

She said Maxwell was "demanding" but she enjoyed working for her.

"I hugely respected Ghislaine. I looked up to her very much," she said. "She treated me fair. It was nice and it was fun."

Espinosa said her duties included booking meetings, setting up calls and making dinner reservations.

Maxwell was "the estate manager in my mind" for Epstein's several properties, she said. "Ghislaine was very important to Jeffrey."

Espinosa was also asked questions about "Jane," a woman who testified under a pseudonym about being recruited by Maxwell at a summer camp when she was 14 years old.

Jane, one of four women who took the stand to testify against Maxwell, said sexual encounters with Epstein became routine, with Maxwell sometimes present.

Espinosa said Jane would regularly come to the office and she felt she had a "loving relationship" with Epstein.

She said Jane's mother also regularly came to the office and referred to her daughter as Epstein's "god-daughter."

"She was kind of considered family and always treated with the utmost respect," Espinosa said. Jane, her mother and brothers regularly stayed at an apartment that Epstein owned in Manhattan, she said.

'False memories'

Espinosa testified that when she first starting working for Epstein in 1996 she thought he and Maxwell "were a couple."

"They were a little flirty," she said.

By the last two years of her employment, they had "kind of gone their separate ways," Espinosa added. "Ghislaine started dating other men."

Espinosa also said many young women would visit Epstein at his office on Madison Avenue, Manhattan, and some appeared to be around 18 years old.

The defense also called psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, a memory expert who has testified in approximately 300 trials, including those of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby.

Loftus told the jury that recollections become distorted over time and that "false memories" can be planted during questioning years later.

"The older the event is the more susceptible people are to having post-event suggestion contaminate their memory," she said.

During cross-examination, prosecutor Lara Pomerantz noted was Loftus profiting from her testimony after the psychologist said she was receiving $600 an hour from the defense.

She also accused Loftus of bias, referencing her 1992 book "Witness for the Defense."

"You haven't written a book called 'Impartial Witness,' right?" said Pomerantz.

"No," replied Loftus.

The defense also called a travel agent, a border protection officer, and a school district official in Palm Beach, where Epstein is accused of carrying out abuse.

Maxwell's lawyers have indicated they might call 35 witnesses but have also said they may rest their case after four days, meaning the jury could receive its instructions before breaking for Christmas.

Judge Alison Nathan rejected a defense request that three defense witnesses be allowed to testify using just their first names or a pseudonym.

Maxwell, the daughter of the late newspaper baron Robert Maxwell, faces an effective life sentence if convicted.