Mario Batali

Celebrity chef Mario Batali acquitted of sexual misconduct charges

BOSTON (AFP) – Mario Batali was found guilty of indecent assault and battery Tuesday, after a speedy trial in which a famous chef waived his right to a jury decide his fate.

The 61-year-old former Food Network ex-man quickly walked out of the courtroom with his attorney without commenting on the case, which centered on allegations that he forcefully kissed and groped a woman from Boston while taking a selfie in a bar in 2017.

In sentencing, Boston Municipal Court Judge James Stanton agreed with Batali’s attorney that the accused had credibility issues and that the photographs suggested the encounter was amicable.

He said, “Pictures are worth a thousand words.”

But the judge also had stern words for the former star of shows like “Molto Mario” and “Iron Chef America,” who prosecutors said was visibly drunk in the photos.

“The defendant did not cover himself up with glory on the night in question,” Stanton said. “His behavior, appearance, and behavior were not worthy of a public person of his stature at that time.”

Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden said he was disappointed with the ruling, but Batali’s accuser came forward with gratitude.

“It can be extremely difficult for a victim to disclose sexual assault,” he said in a statement. “When the person who has committed such a hateful act is in a position of power or fame, the decision to report an assault can become even more difficult and intimidating.”

Batali, who pleaded not guilty to indecent assault and battery in 2019, faced up to two and a half years in prison and would have been required to register as a sex offender if convicted.

The accused, who also walked out of the courtroom without speaking to reporters, testified how confused and powerless she was to do anything to stop Batali at the time.

But in his closing remarks, Batali’s attorney portrayed the 32-year-old Boston-area resident as an “admitted liar” who financially motivates her as she filed a lawsuit seeking damages of more than $50,000 from Batali.

“In her world, truth is a fluid concept,” he said, referring to the woman’s recent admission of trying to avoid serving on a jury by claiming to be a tyrant, which was the focus of the two-day trial.

Prosecutor Nina Bonelli responded in her closing statement that Batali’s lawyers were trying to “demonize” the woman, when their client was at trial for his behavior.

She said it was “absolutely undeniable” from the photos that Batali was drunk. What did not appear, she said, was what was happening off-camera as he also grabbed the accused’s private areas.

Bonelli added that the woman tried to “calm” the unwanted touch simply by “smiling.”

Kissing, groping. She never asked for it. She said she never agreed to it. “She just wanted a selfie.”

Batali is among a number of notable men who have faced public accounts during the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment in recent years.

After four women accused him of inappropriate contact in 2017, he resigned from day-to-day operations at his restaurant empire and left ABC’s cooking show “The Chew,” which has since been on hold.

Batali also apologized, admitting that the allegations “matched” the ways in which he acted.

“I made many mistakes,” he said in an email newsletter at the time. “My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility.”

Last year, Batali, his business partner and their New York City restaurant company agreed to pay $600,000 to resolve a four-year investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office into allegations that Batali and other employees sexually harassed employees.

In Boston, he opened a branch of the popular Italian food market Eataly and Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca in the city’s seaport area. But it has since been bought out of its stake in Italy, and Papo’s restaurant in Boston has closed.

2022-05-10 20:26:12

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