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Gucci Family Secrets: Shocking Allegations of Sexual Abuse

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Sep. 11 2020, Updated 2:24 p.m. ET

The Gucci family is synonymous with fashion. An icon of style, the Gucci name has always evoked an image of elegance, wealth, and grace. However, something dark has been lurking under the glamour all these years. Former accusations of tax evasion, murder, and generational feuds have added some mystique to the family name. Now, Alexandra Zarini, great-grandaughter of Gucci founder Guccio Gucci is finally breaking her silence, and what she has to say about her family is both shocking and sickening. Zarini accuses stepfather Joseph Ruffalo of sexually abusing her for years. The heiress also accuses her mother and grandmother of covering it up, and threatening her with losing her inheritance if she spoke publicly about the accusations.

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Who is Alexandra Zarini?

Zarini, now 35, is the daughter of Patricia Gucci and grand-daughter of Aldo Gucci, who grew the Gucci brand to what it is today. Zarini is now a full-time mom who has been financially independent from her famous family for years. Mother Patricia is the result of a relationship that began illegally in Italy between Aldo and Patricia’s mother. Aldo was married at the time, and adultery was illegal in Italy. A troubled teenager, Zarini eventually found herself struggling with drug addiction which she says is related to the abuse suffered at her step-father’s hands. The abuse she survived was brought to light during therapy sessions after Zarini attended rehab for her addiction.

Who are Joseph and Patricia?

Zarini’s mother Patricia was featured in a Gucci ad campaign as a young adult, and named to the board of directors at age 19. Patricia’s father, Aldo, was arrested for tax evasion and died in 1990. Patricia married a man with whom she had Zarini and another child. When Zarini was still young, Patricia divorced her father and married Ruffalo.

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Ruffalo is a music manager who worked with huge names like Prince and Earth, Wind, & Fire. Patricia moved her two daughters to California to live with Ruffalo, and the couple had another child together.

In her court filing, Zarini accuses both Patricia and Ruffalo of abusing her in different ways.

What does the court filing allege?

//alexandra zarini accuses stepfather sexual abuse allegations quote

The court filing contains sensitive and disturbing information. Included is details on how Patricia allowed Ruffalo to groom Zarini by videotaping her naked in the bathtub. By the time she was 6, Zarini says Ruffalo was sexually assaulting her.

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According to a report by the New York Times, “According to the filing, ‘Defendant Ruffalo would remove his bathrobe, so he was completely naked, and climb into bed with Plaintiff. Plaintiff would lie stiffly in her bed as Defendant Ruffalo reached underneath Plaintiff’s clothes to touch Plaintiff’s nipples.’ She also said he attempted to penetrate her with his hands.

The lawsuit also describes Ms. Gucci hitting Ms. Zarini and sometimes trying to strangle her. Mr. Ruffalo would ‘rescue’ his stepdaughter and then use his role as her protector to touch her in intimate ways.”

The Times continues, “Mr. Ruffalo’s actions continued even when Ms. Zarini was a teenager and attending boarding school in England. (A school friend said Ms. Zarini confided in her about this situation at the time.) Nevertheless, on her mother’s urging, she later returned to live in California with Mr. Ruffalo, where, the lawsuit claims, Mr. Ruffalo continued to sexually assault Ms. Zarini and ‘encouraged’ her ‘to use drugs.’ Ms. Zarini acknowledges using cocaine and crystal meth. Ultimately she confronted her mother, who instructed her to remain silent about what had happened.

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Alexandra Zarini

Ms. Zarini later attended the Sierra Tucson rehabilitation center in Tucson, at the instigation of her mother, and thereafter worked with therapists who she said helped her come to terms with what had happened to her.”

“The Gucci Name”

The Gucci family hasn’t technically been involved with the brand since the early 90’s. The last stake was sold in 1993, and since then the company went public and the family ceased involvement. But that didn’t stop family members from being focused on preserving public image and the, “family name.”

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Zarini alleges that her grandmother asked about the abuse when she was 16. When she confirmed that it was happening, grandmother Bruna Palombo told her to keep it secret. According to Zarini, both Palombo and Patricia threatened to disinherit her if she dragged the family name through the mud publicly. The NYTimes reports, “According to the filing, the defendants ‘tried to avoid, at all costs, what they perceived would be a scandal that could tarnish the Gucci name and potentially cost them millions.’”

What do the defendants say?

For his part, Ruffalo categorically denies all allegations. Ruffalo’s lawyer Richard P. Crane Jr. tells the Times, “My client has not been served and has not read the complaint. Therefore, he is not aware of all of the allegations that the Complaint contains. What he has been informed of, he vehemently and categorically denies. While married to Alexandra’s mother, Mr. Ruffalo and his wife were greatly concerned about the mental well-being of Alexandra and took steps to address her instability. Apparently, their efforts failed.”

//alexandra zarini accuses stepfather sexual abuse allegations quote
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Patricia’s statement to the Times reads, “I am deeply sorry for the pain Joseph Ruffalo caused Alexandra. What he did to her is inexcusable and I was devastated when she disclosed everything to me at our family doctor’s office in London in September 2007. I immediately initiated divorce proceedings against Mr. Ruffalo and set about healing my family through counseling.

I am equally devastated by the allegations against me and her grandmother, which are completely false.”

Zarini’s motives for coming forward are layered

Zarini’s timing in coming forward now are threefold. One, a California law recently passed that makes it easier for adult survivors of child sexual assault to report it after time has passed. Two, Zarini became a mother 4 years ago. It’s not uncommon for victims of abuse to consider reporting it as their child approaches the age they were when they were harmed. And three, Zarini heard that Ruffalo was planning to volunteer at a Children’s hospital. Although his lawyer denies it, Zarini said it was enough for her to feel as though she needed to protect other children.

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What’s next for Zarini?

Alexandra Zarini

Zarini has requested that the case be handled in a trial by jury. Now, the 35-year-old will have to plead her case before judge and jury. Although years have passed, Zarini says she has a clear recollection of events even if she’s a little hazy on the timing for some of them. Zarini is confident that she will be able to tell her story convincingly to the jury. The Gucci family will have to start facing it’s demons soon and decide whether or not to believe one of it’s daughters, or to stand by a family outsider. While that seems like an easy choice, families with public names often struggle over taking sides and committing themselves publicly to one side or the other.

 

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