Chef Mario Batali Found Not Guilty in Sexual Assault Trial

Judge James Stanton delivered the verdict in the Mario Batali case on Tuesday afternoon after less than two days of testimonies in Boston Municipal Court

Celebrity chef Mario Batali arrives at Boston Municipal Court for the first day his pandemic-delayed trial, in Boston, USA, 09 May 2022. Batali pleaded not guilty to a charge of indecent assault and battery in 2019, stemming from accusations that he forcibly kissed and groped a woman after taking a selfie with her at a Boston restaurant in 2017.
Photo: Steven Senne/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

A verdict has been reached in the sexual assault trial against Mario Batali.

The chef, 61, was found not guilty on charges of indecent battery and assault on Tuesday after less than two days of testimonies in Boston Municipal Court.

Judge James Stanton delivered the verdict on Tuesday afternoon, citing "reasonable doubt," and "credibility issues" with the accuser, Natali Tene.

While a jury was slated to be selected on Monday, Batali waived his right to a jury trial, which means the judge presiding over the case alone determined the verdict. Additionally, Batali did not take the stand during the trial. According to the New York Times, Batali, who pleaded not guilty to all charges in 2019, is only now being brought to court due to pandemic delays.

The charges were brought up against Batali after he allegedly touched Tene, 32, in 2017 as they took a selfie together at a Boston restaurant. She alleged in court that Batali was "grabbing me in a way that I was never touched before," according to The Boston Globe.

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If Batali was convicted, he would have faced up to two and a half years in prison, the New York Times reported.

Mario Batali
Mario Batali arriving at Boston Municipal Court on May 10. Scott Eisen/Getty

On Tuesday, the judge heard closing arguments ahead of the verdict. During his final remarks, Batali's lawyer, Antony Fuller, said "Mario Batali didn't assault the alleged victim." He cited the selfie the pair took together and said the photos "don't lie." Fuller continued to argue that Tene's accusations were financially motivated but prosecutor Nina Bonelli fired back during her closing argument. "This wasn't about money," she said. "It was about sexual assault."

Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden issued a statement to CBS Boston following the verdict.

"While we're disappointed in the judge's verdict, my office will not waiver in our support for the victim in this case," Hayden said. "It can be incredibly difficult for a victim to disclose a sexual assault. When the individual who committed such an abhorrent act is in a position of power or celebrity, the decision to report an assault can become all the more challenging and intimidating. I'm grateful that the victim in this case made the decision to come forward, and to every survivor of sexual assault who makes that difficult decision."

As he read the verdict, Judge Stanton supported the "defendant's contention" that Tene's motive was financial gain.

Tene testified about the encounter with Batali and recounted the moment she and Batali took the photo together, "His right hand was all over my breast. All over my rear end. He was grabbing me in a way that I had never been touched before. Squeezing in between my legs. Squeezing me in my vagina to pull me closer," Tene alleged of Batali, per The Boston Globe.

A friend of Tene, Rachel Buckley, also testified before the closing arguments on Tuesday. The Boston Globe reported that she said "at first it was just selfies and then it turned into groping."

Batali was first accused of sexual harassment and assault in December 2017. Eater reported the famed chef allegedly groped four different women and engaged in inappropriate touching spanning two decades, and another accuser subsequently claimed on 60 Minutes that he drugged and assaulted her while she was unconscious in 2005.

In January 2019, NYPD officials closed three sexual assault investigations involving the chef, telling the New York Times, "the charges in two of the case were beyond the New York State statute of limitations, which was lifted in 2006, but not made retroactive," while the third allegation was dropped due to lack of criminal evidence.

A four-year investigation by New York State Attorney General Letitia James found that Batali, Bastianich and their management company B&B Hospitality Group violated state and city human rights laws.

As part of a settlement with the Attorney General, Batali and fellow celeb chef Joe Bastianich were later ordered to pay $600,000 to 20 people who were sexually harassed while working at the pair's restaurants, according to court documents, from July 2021.

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