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 chief — 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 Stanton of his client’s innocence after going to lengths to discredit his accuser, Natali Tene.
“Its an understatement to say that Mr. Batali did not cover himself in glory on the night in question. His conduct and his appearance and demeanor were not befitting on a public person of his stature at that time,” the judge said before announcing his decision.
But ultimately “this case is about credibility,” the judge said, and Tene “has significant credibility issues.”
The disgraced chef, wearing a pinstripe suit jacket, mouthed the words “thank you” to Stanton and slightly bowed his head after the judge announced the “not guilty” verdict. He also gave one of his lawyers a small kiss and the other a short hug.
Tene, 32, tested 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.
Batali 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 tested. “Just a lot of touching.”
Tene 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. He argued she has a financial incentive to lie because of her pending civil lawsuit seeking more than $50,000 in damages from Batali.
“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 photos — some of which Fuller was spotted holding in court as he spoke — showed the rotund restauranteur grabbing a woman’s face and landing a smooch on her cheek.
The disgraced chief, 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 chief 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 tested Tuesday that Tene told her of the assault in its aftermath.
“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.”
It seemed that the selfies themselves were the final reason Batali was able to dodge wearing a jumpsuit to match his signature orange crocs.
“Pictures tell a thousand words,” Stanton said. “The complaining witness’s image in these photographs…showed the separation between the complaining witness and the defendant Mr. Batali.”
“Her reaction or lack thereof to the alleged assault is telling,” the judge added of her face in the pictures.
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.