SHELLEY TERRY | STAR BEACON Thomas Volpi, left, enters the courtroom Wednesday with his attorney, Mark DeVan, on the first day of testimony in Volpi’s rape trial.

JEFFERSON — Testimony in the rape trial for 65-year-old Thomas L. Volpi of Ashtabula began Wednesday in the courtroom of Ashtabula County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Harris.

Volpi was arrested Aug. 14, 2019 after a grand jury issued a 39-count indictment, charging he furnished alcohol and raped and sexually assaulted two teenaged girls, according to the indictment.

During opening statements, Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa told a dizzying tale of the prominent local business owner giving underage girls alcohol and engaging in sexual activity with them on July 5-6, 2019 at his home and business. The girls were 15 and 17 at the time.

“This whole night was because Mr. Volpi couldn’t keep his hands off these minors,” she said. “He impaired their judgement with alcohol ... he’s a guy who couldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Volpi’s attorney, Mark DeVan of Cleveland, admitted his client “did some things he shouldn’t have done,” but the teens were not forced to do anything and their actions will show they were not victims.

“[The 15-year-old] was a willing participant in a three-way sex act,” he said. “They never complained or resisted. They were willing to have sex.”

As their first witness, the prosecution called the then-15-year-old, who is now 18. She took the stand and gave very emotional testimony, crying throughout the prosecutor’s questioning.

She said it started out as a hot summer day when her family wanted to go swimming at Volpi’s home in Ashtabula. They all enjoyed a pool and hot tub. Volpi served alcoholic beverages and encouraged the underage girls to drink up “so it wouldn’t be wasted,” she said.

Under the guise of getting dry towels, Volpi got the girl alone in the house, she said.

“He proceeded to tell me I had a really nice body,” she said. “He said he’s been thinking about doing this stuff for a while, since the first time he laid eyes on me.”

Volpi then touched her inappropriately and made sexual comments, she said. He also took her hand and placed it on his private parts. She said she didn’t say or do anything because she didn’t want to make him angry.

Cantalamessa pointed out the size difference in the two — the petite 15-year-old girl and a tall, large, then-62-year-old man.

Volpi knew the teen was only 15 because he asked her to drive to get more alcohol because he was too drunk, the teen testified. About that time, Tiara Babbitt, 22, arrived at the party, she said. Babbitt drove Volpi and the teen to his store to get money, she said. By this time, the teen had consumed four or five bottles of a flavored alcohol drink, she said. She would drink eight or nine before the night was over, she said.

Once at his store, Volpi and the teen went inside to his office, where he pushed her into a chair, performed sex acts on her and forced her to perform sexual acts on him, she said.

“I said, ‘no,’ multiple times but he said it was OK, it’d be our secret,” she said. “He then went out to ask Tiara [Babbitt] something.”

Volpi asked Babbitt to come in the store and he put the teen on the counter, she testified.

“He has Tiara do things to me,” she said. “He tells Tiara to do things and afterwards he will pay her.”

Volpi watched the girls and then tried to join in but “he was too drunk and counter was too high,” she said. “I was there but like I wasn’t there. I was afraid if I tried to run, something would happen to me.”

When they finished, the teen said she saw Volpi give Babbitt money.

“He said if I continue being good, he would give me money, as well,” she said.

Police later charged Babbitt with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. She pleaded guilty to attempted obstruction of justice in a plea negotiation with prosecutors. She was sentenced to two years probation and agreed to get counseling.

Once back at Volpi’s house that night, the threesome went into Volpi’s bedroom and had sex until they heard the teen’s 17-year-old friend in the hallway, the teen said. They got dressed and went to the pool, where she confided in her 17-year-old friend about what happened, but asked her to keep it quiet because she felt humiliated, she said.

The teen’s younger sister called and asked Volpi’s daughter, if they could spend the night, and she agreed, the teen said. When it got really late, she said Volpi assigned bedrooms to his overnight guests and put the 15- and 17-year-old girls in his bedroom.

Once the doors were shut, he inappropriately touched the 17-year-old while the 15-year-old pretended to be asleep, she said. While Volpi was molesting her friend, she said she grabbed her friend’s cell phone from the night stand and texted her brother, who was in the other bedroom. He came in the room, saw the 17-year-old had no pants on, and said, “You know she’s 17,” and closed the door, she said.

The girls pretended they had to go to the bathroom and called Volpi’s daughter, the 15-year-old said. They told her that he “did things” to them, she said.

“She came over screaming and yelling at him,” the 15-year-old said. “Tom said, ‘You don’t want me to go to jail.’ He was begging her. He was panicked. He promised he would take me to get my belly button pierced if I didn’t tell anyone.”

Volpi’s daughter drove the teens to the Ashtabula Police Department, where officers questioned them and sent them to a hospital, Cantalamessa said.

During cross-examination, DeVan asked the teen why she didn’t call for help earlier or why didn’t she just leave. He pointed out that Volpi never restrained her. He showed the courtroom surveillance video taken outside and inside Volpi’s business, and the teen was smiling in them. She said she didn’t know what else to do.

DeVan brought transcripts of the teen’s previous account of what happened, noting she told the 17-year-old she probably would have kept quiet because Volpi said he’d give her anything she wanted. But her friend pushed her to tell someone, to go to the police.

After nearly four hours on the witness stand, the teen stepped down and the prosecution called the 17-year-old, who’s now 20, to the stand. She supported her friend’s testimony, stressing how Volpi pushed the girls to drink.

She said when the threesome returned from the store, the 15-year-old told her what happened.

“I felt bad and I didn’t want her to go through that again,” she said. “I’m close to her and I wanted to protect her.”

Once they got into Volpi’s bed that night, the 17-year-old positioned herself by Volpi, who started stroking her leg and removing her underwear, she said.

“I was scared and I didn’t really move,” she said, adding he starting performing a sexual act on her. “I said, ‘Stop,’ three or four times. I was scared and I didn’t want to anger him.”

During cross-examination, DeVan asked her why she told investigators that when Volpi removed her shorts that it “wasn’t a big deal.” She said he’s an older man and she didn’t know what he’s capable of doing.

“You didn’t call for help with cell phones and all the land lines in the house,” DeVan said. “You made no attempt to escape.”

The trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. today.

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