BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts woman who accused Mario Batali of kissing and groping her as she tried to take a selfie at a Boston restaurant testified Monday that she felt confused and helpless to do anything it’s to stop the famous chef.
While being questioned by prosecutors during Batali’s sexual misconduct trial, the 32-year-old said he appeared drunk and was slurring his words and closing his eyes as they took several photos together at his insistence. The trial opened on Monday after Batali – in a surprise move – waived his right to a jury trial and instead opted to let a judge decide his fate.
The woman also testified that she felt embarrassed by the 2017 incident – until she saw other women come forward to share similar encounters with Batali.
“It happened to me and it’s my life,” the woman said when asked by prosecutors why she also decided to speak out. “I want to be able to take control of what happened, to come forward, to say my peace and for everyone to be responsible for their actions and behaviors.”
Batali’s lawyer, Anthony Fuller, argued that the attack never happened and that the accuser was not a credible witness and had a financial incentive to lie.
He also suggested that she joked about meeting her in text messages with friends and ate at Eataly, the Italian market Bataly once owned, after the meeting.
“She’s not telling the truth,” Fuller said. “This is made for money and for fun.”
The accuser filed a lawsuit against Batali seeking unspecified damages for “severe emotional distress” that is still pending in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston.
Fuller also said the accuser, in an effort to evade jury duty, recently pleaded guilty to lying during jury selection in another Massachusetts criminal trial because she claimed she was clairvoyant.
Batali, who pleaded not guilty to indecent assault and battery in 2019, could face up to 2.5 years in prison and be required to register as a sex offender if convicted. He is expected to be in court throughout the proceedings, which are expected to last about two days, prosecutors say.
Batali is among a number of high-profile men who have faced public judgment during the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment in recent years.
The 61-year-old was once a Food Network staple on shows like “Molto Mario” and “Iron Chef America.” But the high-flying career of the personality wearing a ponytail and an orange crocodile crumbled amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Four women accused him of inappropriate touching in 2017, after which he quit the day-to-day operations of his restaurant empire and quit the since-absent ABC cooking show “The Chew.”
Batali issued an apology, acknowledging that the allegations “fit” the way he acted.
“I made a lot of mistakes and I’m so sorry for disappointing my friends, family, fans and team,” he said in an email newsletter at the time. “My behavior was wrong and there is no excuse. I take full responsibility.”
Last year, Batali, his business partner and their New York restaurant business agreed to pay $600,000 to resolve a four-year investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office into allegations which Batali, restaurant managers and other workers allegedly sexually harassed employees.
In Boston, he opened a branch of the famous Italian food market Eataly in downtown Prudential Center in 2016, as well as a Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca in the city’s Seaport District in 2015.
Batali has since been bought out of his stake in Eataly, which still has dozens of locations around the world, including in Boston, and the city’s Babbo restaurant has since closed.
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