BOSTON (Court TV) — A judge has found former celebrity chef Mario Batali not guilty of sexual misconduct in a case brought from allegations he forcibly kissed and groped a woman in 2017. Batali, who was charged with indecent assault and battery, was facing up to five years in prison. Before reading his verdict, Judge James Stanton said Batali’s conduct that night was “not befitting of a person of his stature” and that “he has paid a high cost financially and his reputation tarnished.” Judge Stanton also said the accuser had “credibility issues” and the prosecution “did not meet their burden to the degree that is required by law.”
By Emanuella Grinberg, Joy Nakrin
BOSTON (Court TV) — Former celebrity chef Mario Batali will stand trial on accusations he forcibly kissed and groped a fan in a bar in 2017.
At the height of his career, Batali seemed unstoppable. The celebrity chef co-hosted the popular talk show “The Chew” for six seasons and led an empire that included restaurants and cookbooks.
But according to some fans, former employees and others who knew him, his star power belied disturbing behavior.
An “Eater” investigation published in December 2017 featured allegations of sexual misconduct spanning decades. The report stated, “Batali did not deny all the allegations, saying that they “match up” with ways he has behaved.”
The allegations halted Batali’s career and sparked an industry reckoning. More people came forward with accusations against the chef. One of them was a woman in Boston, where Batali owned shares in the upscale Italian market Eataly.
The two crossed paths at a restaurant near Boston’s Prudential Center the night of March 31 to April 1. The woman told police she was at a table with a friend when she tried to sneak a photo of Batali at the bar. Batali saw her and invited her to take selfies with him, according to an incident report. As she stood next to him, he groped and kissed her against her will, she said. “She stopped the selfies even though Batali insisted on taking more and continued pulling on her face.”
More than a year later, in May 2018, the woman’s account appeared in Eater with her name, Natali Tene. Court TV is identifying the woman by name with her consent. After retaining a civil attorney, Tene went to police and reported the incident.
Batali was charged in April 2019 with one count of indecent assault and battery. It’s the first criminal charge he’s faced in connection with any of the allegations. The New York Police Department closed other cases concerning Batali based on insufficient probable cause.
Batali’s lawyers have argued that there is no evidence from the photos that Batali assaulted Tene. They claim Tene cooked up the assault allegation for financial gain after Batali came under scrutiny. They point to text messages between the accuser and her friends in which she appeared to make light of the incident and talked about obtaining money from the media for the photos.
Batali is facing up to five years in prison if convicted.
DAILY TRIAL HIGHLIGHTS
DAY 2 – 5/10/22
- Rachel Buckley, a friend of the alleged victim, testifies
- Both sides rest. The defense chooses not to call any witnesses. The judge hears closing arguments
- Judge James Stanton found the defendant not guilty of indecent assault and battery
- Before reading his verdict, Judge James Stanton said the accuser had “credibility issues.” He also said the prosecution “did not meet their burden to the degree that is required by law.”
DAY 1 – 5/9/22
- Defendant Mario Batali waives his right to a jury trial, opting to have a judge decide his fate
- In their opening statement, the prosecution says alleged victim Natali Tene initially tried to take a sneaky picture of defendant Mario Batali over her shoulder on the evening of March 31, 2017
- Batali wanted to take other pictures and Tene obliged, that’s when Batali began groping her breast , her butt, and her groin area
- We will hear from her friend Rachel Buckley – Tene told her friend what happened to her
- Ms. Tene was overwhelmed and hired a civil attorney to help her
- The defense argues in their opening statement that the defense is simple, “this never happened”
- They claim the picture and video evidence will show Tene isn’t telling the truth and she has a history of not telling the truth
- They claim Tene has financial motive to prevail in this case
- In May 2017, following the incident, Tene visited Eataly and spent over $40 at the restaurant
- Evidence reportedly shows Tene texting with a friend in Dec. 2017 about suing Batali
- Alleged accuser Natali Tene takes the stand
- Tene testifies she planned to meet up with her friend Jonathan and go to Towne Stove and Spirit the night of March 31, 2017
- She says she recognized Batali because his face is on a lot of products in the restaurant
- After sneaking pictures of Batali, she apologized to him and said she would delete the photos, he then agreed to take photos with her
- Tene claims Batali was touching different body parts the entire time they took selfies – she says she smiled because she was shocked and alarmed
- She says she could tell Batali had been drinking
- She says she contacted the Eater reporter after reading the first article about Batali and wanted to let her know what she experienced
- Testifies a civil attorney suggested she file a police report after the filing of her civil report
- On cross-examination, the defense points to text messages between Tene and her friend Kayla Toner, who worked at the Boston Police Department: “Oh wow. I have a good story for you.”
- Tene also texts, “At least we can sue Batali,” to which Toner responds “f*** yes and you can ruin his life”
- On Dec. 13, 2017, Tene texted “OMG I know…give me $10K?”
- Tene says she told friends she was disgusted by Batali after the incident and it triggered her
- The defense points out that Tene continued to patron Eataly establishments
- On redirect, Tene says she felt alarmed and helpless
- WATCH: 5/9/22 Celebrity Chef on Trial: Day 1
Court TV field producer Tiffany Smith contributed to this report.