BOSTON (AP) – Mario Batali was found not guilty of indecent assault and battery Tuesday after a speedy trial in which the celebrity chef waived his right to let a jury decide his fate.
Batali, who pleaded not guilty For indecent assault and battery in 2019, he faced up to 2 1/2 years in jail and would have been required to register as a sex offender if convicted.
Batali’s accuser recounted in court how she had been “shocked, surprised and alarmed” when the 61-year-old former Food Network personality aggressively kissed and groped her while they took a selfie at a Boston restaurant in 2017.
The 32-year-old software company worker said she felt confused and powerless to do anything to stop Batali from touching her without her consent. She has also filed a lawsuit that is pending in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston, which Batali’s attorney argued gave him a financial incentive to lie.
Batali is among a number of high-profile men who have faced public prosecution during the #MeToo movement against sexual abuse and harassment in recent years.
After four women accused him of inappropriate touching in 2017, he resigned from day-to-day operations at his restaurant empire and left the now-defunct ABC cooking show “The Chew.”
Batali also apologized and acknowledged that the accusations “concur” with the ways in which he has acted.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” he said in an email newsletter at the time. “My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility.”
The trial began Monday with Batali, in a surprise move, waiving his right to a jury trial and opting instead to let the judge decide his fate.
Batali’s attorney argued that the Boston assault never happened and that the accuser is not a credible witness, focusing on the woman’s recent admission of trying to avoid jury duty by claiming to be clairvoyant. She was also charged, in that case, with violating the judge’s orders to keep an open mind and not discuss the case with others.
In delivering the verdict, Boston Municipal Court Judge James Stanton agreed with the claim that the accuser had credibility problems. Both the accuser and Batali left the courtroom without speaking to journalists.
Batali was once a fixture on shows like “Molto Mario” and “Iron Chef America.” But the high-flying career of the ponytailed, orange crocodile personality came crashing down amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Last year, Batali, his business partner, and his New York City restaurant company agreed to pay $600,000 to settle a four-year investigation by the New York attorney general’s office into allegations that Batali and other staff employees were sexually harassed.
In Boston, he had opened a branch of the popular Eataly Italian food market and a Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca in the city’s Seaport District. But he has since been bought out of his stake in Eataly, and the Babbo restaurant in Boston has closed.