Celebrity chef Mario Batali has been found not guilty of sexually assaulting a woman at a Boston bar in 2017. He is one of the most recognizable celebrity chefs in the world and was the face of a multimillion-dollar culinary empire that included TV shows and elite restaurants
However, the chef has faced multiple allegations of sexual assault over the past few years. Most recently, Batali sat for a two-day trial in a Boston Municipal Court, according to The New York Times.
A woman named Natali Tene, 32, testified that Batali, 61, kissed her aggressively without her consent and touched her private areas.
“I’ve never been touched before like that,” she said in court, “like squeezing in between my legs, squeezing my vagina to pull me closer to him, as if that’s a normal way to grab someone.”
Batali waived his right to a jury trial, meaning that it was up to the judge to decide his fate. If convicted, Batali would have faced more than two years and jail and a requirement to register as a sex offender.
The trial rested more on whether Tene’s testimony was trustworthy, with Judge James Stanton remarking that Tene has “significant credibility issues.”
“It’s an understatement to say that Mr. Batali did not cover himself in glory on the night in question,” the judge said.
Batali’s lawyer, Tony Fuller, referenced Tene’s lawsuit against Batali and remarked that she “lied for fun and she lied for money.”
Suffolk County district attorney Kevin Hayden said he was disappointed with the verdict.
“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,” he said.
Tene spent most of the first day of the trial testifying, with the only other witness being her friend Rachel Buckley. Testimony from both described a night in March of 2017 when an extremely drunk Batali noticed Tene sneaking pictures of him at a bar and then calling her over.
She said he assaulted her while she posed for photos.
“He has his face pressed up against mine and he’s pulling my body closer to his,” she said, according to CNN. “He’s kissing the side of my face. He has his other arm wrapped behind me. His hands were in sensitive areas, touching me, touching my body. It was like a selfie, but other things were happening simultaneously … His other hand that can’t be seen is touching my body in sensitive areas.”
She testified that Batali “was wasted” and couldn’t keep his eyes open. She said she got chills when he asked her to come up to his room.
Defense attorneys focused on the photos themselves and text messages showing Tene talking lightly about procuring financial compensation from Batali. Other texts showed she was untruthful to get out of a gym membership, and she said she has a psychic ability to get out of jury duty.
Batali’s transgressions came to light in Dec. 017 when four women accused him of inappropriate touching, something they said had been going on for decades.
After an investigation by New York State attorney general Letitia James, Batali and his business partner doled out $600,000 to be divided among 20 men and women who say they were sexually harassed while working at the pair’s very popular restaurants.
At the time, he apologized and said, “My behavior was wrong, and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility.”
The scandal proved costly for the chef – he lost his spot on ABC’s The Chew and his restaurants in Vegas had to close. It also ended his restaurant group partnerships.
When the judge read the verdict, Batali smiled and nodded.
If you or someone you know is suffering from sexual violence, contact RAINN or the National Sexual Abuse Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.