Celebrity chef Mario Batali acquitted of sexual misconduct | EW.com

The chef and former TV host was found not guilty of indecent assault and battery in a bench trial.

Celebrity chef Mario Batali was found not guilty of indecent assault and battery Tuesday.

Judge James Stanton delivered the verdict after a two-day trial in Boston in which Batali, 61, waived his right to have a jury decide his fate. The chef and erstwhile TV personality, who pleaded not guilty to the charges in 2019, would have faced up to two and a half years in jail and been required to register as a sex offender if convicted.

Natali Tene, Batali’s accuser, testified that Batali forcibly kissed and groped her while they were taking a selfie at a Boston bar in April 2017. “I’ve never been touched before like that,” the software company worker, 32, 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.”

According to the New York Times, Batali did not testify, and his defense team did not call on any witnesses. Stanton said that while Batali “did not cover himself in glory on the night in question,” Tene has “significant credibility issues.” In closing arguments, Batali’s attorney, Anthony Fuller, said, “She lied for fun and she lied for money,” referring to a separate lawsuit filed by Tene against Batali.

Mario Batali

Mario Batali

| Credit: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Prosecutor Nina Bonelli, the Suffolk County assistant district attorney, countered in her closing argument, “The kissing, the pulling, the groping — she never asked for it. She never wanted and she never consented to it. All she wanted was a selfie.” Bonelli added, “This wasn’t some isolated incident. This was a sexual assault that happened to her and maybe others.”

In 2017, Batali and other high-profile restauranteurs were accused of sexual abuse and harassment. Four women accused Batali of inappropriate touching in a New York Times exposé, leading the chef to step down from the day-to-day operations of his restaurant empire and depart the food talk show The Chew. He apologized in an email newsletter and said the allegations “match up” with past behavior.

“My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses,” Batali wrote alongside a recipe for pizza dough cinnamon rolls. “I take full responsibility. Sharing the joys of Italian food, tradition and hospitality with all of you, each week, is an honor and privilege. Without the support of all of you — my fans — I would never have a forum in which to expound on this.”

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