Judge James M. Stanton found celebrity chef and restaurateur Mario Batali not guilty on one count of indecent assault and battery on May 10 at Boston Municipal Court after a two-day trial, for which Batali had waived his right to a jury. The trial stemmed from a 2017 incident at now-closed Boston restaurant Towne Stove and Spirits in which a woman claimed Batali forcibly kissed and grabbed her while they took selfies together. Batali had pled not guilty to the charges in May 2019; had he been convicted, he could have faced up to two and a half years in jail and could have been required to register as a sex offender.
In delivering the verdict, Stanton reportedly said that “the complaining witness has significant credibility issues,” per courtroom reporting by The Washington Post’s Tim Carman, although Stanton did also note that Batali’s conduct was “not befitting of a public person of his stature.”
Batali’s quick non-jury trial began on May 9. Natali Tene testified yesterday that “I have never been touched before like that,” during an incident at a bar in April 2017, with Batali “squeezing my vagina to pull me closer to him.” She said she felt embarrassed about the situation, but wanted to step forward when similar reports came out about Batali’s alleged misconduct with fans. (The claims were one of several allegations to come to light in 2018 following Eater NY’s 2017 report detailing numerous allegations of sexual misconduct by Batali spanning at least two decades. Batali provided a statement for the 2017 report, saying that “much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted.”)
“I want to be able to take control of what happened, come forward, say my piece and have everyone be accountable for their actions,” Tene testified.
A friend of Tene took the stand on May 10 to testify that Tene had shared a detailed account of the encounter with her the month that it happened. Batali did not testify, and both the prosecution and defense wrapped up closing arguments on May 10.
The defense’s argument hinged on painting the accuser as a financially motivated “admitted liar,” pointing to her recent admission to a charge of violating a judge’s instructions while serving on a jury in an unrelated 2018 trial; she reportedly attempted to avoid jury duty by claiming to be clairvoyant. Defense attorney Anthony Fuller also detailed an incident that involved Tene fabricating a lease so that she could get a deposit back from a health club.
Fuller also argued that photographs of the incident suggested “an entirely consensual encounter.”
“If somebody gooses you, grabs your privates or your butt, you are going to flinch, you are going to blank, you are going to make a face,” he said. “You don’t see any of that in any of these photos.”
Prosecutor Nina Bonelli argued that Batali’s behavior was “absolutely undeniable” from the photographs — and much of what allegedly happened was off-camera anyway. Tene, Bonelli said, tried to “de-escalate” the unwanted touching by “smiling it off.”
Batali still faces a separate civil suit filed by Tene in Boston’s Suffolk Superior Court, and he has already faced some consequences for his behavior. Batali stepped away from day-to-day operations of his businesses in 2017, and by early 2019, he had fully divested from all of his restaurants, including all United States locations of Eataly. Last year, Batali, former business partner Joe Bastianich, and their company formerly known as B & B Hospitality Group paid a settlement of $600,000 to at least 20 women and men who claimed to have been sexually harassed working at Batali and Bastianich’s Manhattan restaurants Babbo, Lupa, and Del Posto, resolving a four-year investigation by the New York attorney general’s office.