Mario Batali was found not guilty of sexual misconduct. The Boston criminal trial concluded after a short two days on Tuesday, with a judge, not jury, acquitting the celebrity chef on indecent assault and battery charges. He appeared elated after the verdict was read, hugging his lawyers and friends on the way out of court.
In 2017, Batali was accused of forcibly kissing and groping a woman who asked to take a selfie at his restaurant. She took the stand on Monday and claimed she was "nervous, shocked" and "alarmed" after the incident.
"His right hand is all over my breasts, all over my rear end, all between my legs," the woman claimed. "I've never been grabbed like that before ... squeezing my vagina and pulling me closer to him. As if that's a normal way to pull someone in."
Batali's lawyers claimed his accuser is financially motivated as she filed a civil lawsuit and is seeking more than $50,000 in damages. (The case is pending.) They went after her credibility and said she's an "admitted liar."
"In her world, truth is a flexible concept," said Batali's lawyer Antony Fuller. The woman apparently admitted to trying to get out of jury duty by claiming to be clairvoyant. Fuller noted how the woman doesn't look uncomfortable in the selfies.
"Photos and video don't lie. They don't have a financial motivation," he told the judge. "But she does."
Batali waived his right to a jury trial and faced up to 2 1/2 years in prison if found guilty.
The former Food Network star's career collapsed after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct amid the #MeToo movement. In a Dec. 2017 report published by restaurant website Eater, four women claimed that Batali "touched them inappropriately in a pattern of behavior that appears to span at least two decades."
After the article was published, Batali stepped away from company operations at the Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group. The Chew co-host said he was "deeply sorry" for past behavior.
"I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt. Although the identities of most of the individuals mentioned in these stories have not been revealed to me, much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends and family," he said in a statement.
"I have work to do to try to regain the trust of those I have hurt and disappointed. For this reason, I am going to step away from day-to-day operations of my businesses. We built these restaurants so that our guests could have fun and indulge, but I took that too far in my own behavior. I won't make that mistake again. I want any place I am associated with to feel comfortable and safe for the people who work or dine there," he continued.
"I know my actions have disappointed many people. The successes I have enjoyed are owned by everyone on my team. The failures are mine alone," he concluded. "To the people who have been at my side during this time — my family, my partners, my employees, my friends, my fans — I am grateful for your support and hopeful that I can regain your respect and trust. I will spend the next period of time trying to do that."
The New York Police Department investigated sexual assault allegations against Batali, but no charges were ever filed. The case was closed in 2019.