Accuser testifies in Mario Batali sexual misconduct trial
DEVELOPMENT… The story will be updated as new information can be verified. Updated 4 times
BOSTON — Mario Batali’s sexual misconduct trial opened Monday in a Boston court with his accuser recounting how she was “shocked, surprised and alarmed” as the celebrity chef kissed and aggressively groped her while taking selfies in a restaurant in 2017.
The 32-year-old Boston-area software company employee said she felt confused and helpless to do anything to stop Batali.
“Everything was happening so fast and it was basically happening all the time,” the woman testified at the trial, which resumes Tuesday in Boston City Court. “Just a lot of touching.”
She said she felt embarrassed until she saw other women coming forward to share similar encounters with Batali.
“It happened to me and it’s my life,” the woman replied when asked by prosecutors why she came forward. “I want to be able to take control of what happened, say what it is and that everyone is responsible for their actions.”
But Batali’s attorney, Anthony Fuller, sought to discredit her, arguing the attack never happened.
He said the accuser had a financial incentive to lie because she was seeking more than $50,000 in damages from Batali in a separate civil lawsuit pending in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston.
“She’s not telling the truth,” Fuller said. “This is made for money and for fun.”
During cross-examination, he produced financial statements showing that the woman had eaten at Eataly, the Italian market in which Batali once had a stake, weeks after the encounter and continued to frequent the Boston bar where the alleged assault took place.
“Are you going to the restaurant of the guy you think brutally assaulted you?” he said. “That does not make sense.”
The woman said she did not remember going to Eataly and maintained that she was not speaking for financial gain. She also strongly pushed back at Fuller for asking why none of the many photos taken with Batali that night showed the alleged assault.
The woman said the photos were all taken relatively close and did not show Batali, who she said was visibly drunk, grabbing her private parts, touching her face and even putting his tongue in her ear. She said he also invited her to his hotel room afterward, which she declined.
“I’ve never been touched like this before,” the woman said. “Squeeze my vagina to get closer to him, like it’s a normal way to grab someone.
But Fuller argued that the accuser was not a credible witness. He focused on his recent admission of trying to avoid jury service by claiming to be clairvoyant. She was also accused in that case of violating the judge’s orders to keep an open mind and not discuss the case with others. In court on Monday, however, she argued she could predict major events before they happened “to a certain extent”.
Monday’s trial opened after Batali – in a surprise move – waived his right to a jury trial and instead opted to let a judge decide his fate.
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.
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,” 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 and other staff allegedly sexually harassed employees.
In Boston, he opened downtown Eataly and Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca in the city’s Seaport District. Batali has since been bought out of his stake in Eataly and the Babbo restaurant has closed.