Mario Batali on Tuesday was cleared of charges that he groped a woman at a Boston bar — an important victory for the celebrity chef who fell from grace after multiple allegations of sexual impropriety surfaced.
Boston Municipal Court Judge James Stanton found the chef — who had waived his right to a trial by jury — not guilty of indecent battery and assault after a criminal trial that lasted less than two days.
Batali’s lawyer Anthony Fuller effectively convinced the judge of his client’s innocence after going to lengths to discredit his accuser, Natali Tene.
Tene, 32, testified on Monday that Batali, 61, non-consensually kissed her, rubbed her breasts, grabbed her behind and put his hands between her legs while taking selfies at since-shuttered eatery Towne Stove and Spirits in 2017.
The restaurateur was “grabbing me in a way that I was never touched before,” she told the court.
“It was all happening so quickly and it was happening essentially the whole time,” she testified. “Just a lot of touching.”
Tene, who filed both a civil and criminal suit, also said Batali invited her back to his hotel that evening but that she didn’t go.
In his closing arguments Tuesday, Fuller said Tene brought the charges against his client to make money and exploit the #MeToo movement.
“The photos and videos do not lie, they do not have the financial motive to lie, but Ms. Tene does,” Fuller said of the selfies taken during the April 1, 2017, incident.
The disgraced chef, who has faced other allegations of inappropriate touching, was looking at 2 1/2 years in prison if found guilty. Batali notably did not take the stand and his legal team called no witnesses.
Lawyers for the chef zeroed in on Tene’s alleged past mistruths, noting she once admitted to lying to a Massachusetts court by saying she was clairvoyant to get out of jury duty. She also conspired with her mother to forge a lease to help her get out of paying a gym’s $200 cancellation fee, his lawyers said.
“We know she lied and scammed a gym for $200, what would she do for $50,000?” Fuller said.
In one particularly damning text, Fuller said, a friend told the plaintiff in 2018 to “just play up the story” when she went to the media with her allegations.
“Omg of course queen,” Tene texted back.
The plaintiff’s team called her friend Rachel Buckley, 37, who testified Tuesday that Tene told her of the assault afterward.
“At first it was selfies and then it turned into groping,” Buckley said. “She told me it was her thighs, her groin and her breasts.”
The judge did not allow photos or video of Tene to be taken in court. Batali sat through the brief trial, wearing his signature Crocs to the courthouse.
Four other women accused the chef of inappropriate touching in 2017, causing him to step down from TV roles and operations of his restaurant empire, including Eataly, in which he has since sold his stake.