Accuser testifies in Mario Batali sexual misconduct trial
BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts woman who accused Mario Batali of kissing and groping her while attempting to take a selfie at a Boston restaurant testified Monday that she felt confused and powerless to do anything to stop the celebrity chef.
The 32-year-old said she also felt embarrassed by the 2017 incident — until she saw other women step forward to share similar encounters with Batali.
“This happened to me and this is my life,” said the woman while being questioned by prosecutors at the outset of Batali’s sexual misconduct trial. “I want to be able to take control of what happened, come forward, say my piece and have everyone be accountable for their actions."
But Batali’s lawyer, Anthony Fuller, argued the assault never happened and that the accuser has a financial incentive to lie. He said she’s seeking more than $50,000 in damages from Batali in a separate civil lawsuit pending in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston.
During cross examination, he produced receipts showing she ate at Eataly, the Italian marketplace Batali once owned, weeks after the encounter and continued to patronize the Boston bar where the alleged assault took place.
“She’s not being truthful,” Fuller said. “This is being fabricated for money and for fun.”
The woman said she didn’t recall going to Eataly and maintained she isn’t speaking out for financial gain.
She also strongly pushed back at Fuller for questioning why none of the nearly dozen selfies taken with Batali that night showed the alleged assault.
The woman said the photos were all taken relatively close up and didn’t show how Batali was grabbing her private areas, touching her face and even sticking his tongue in her ear.
“It was all happening so quickly and it was happening essentially the whole time,” she testified. “Just a lot of touching.”
The woman also said Batali appeared drunk and invited her up to his hotel room afterward, which she said she declined.
Fuller also argued the accuser isn’t a credible witness. He said the woman, in an effort to get out of jury duty, recently pleaded guilty to lying during jury selection in another Massachusetts criminal trial because she claimed she was clairvoyant.
Monday’s trial opened after Batali — in a surprise move — waived his right to a jury trial and opted instead to have a judge decide his fate.
Batali, who pleaded not guilty to indecent assault and battery in 2019, could face up to 2 1/2 years in jail and be required to register as a sex offender if convicted.
Batali is among a number of high-profile men who have faced a public reckoning during the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment in recent years.
The 61-year-old was once a Food Network fixture on shows like “Molto Mario” and “Iron Chef America.” But the ponytail-and-orange Croc-wearing personality’s high-flying career crumbled amid sexual misconduct allegations.
Four women accused him of inappropriate touching in 2017, after which he stepped down from day-to-day operations at his restaurant empire and left the since-discontinued ABC cooking show “The Chew.”
Batali has offered an apology, acknowledging the allegations “match up” with ways he has acted.
“I have made many mistakes and I am so very sorry that I have disappointed my friends, my family, my fans and my team,” he said in an email newsletter at the time. “My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility.”
Last year, Batali, his business partner and their New York City restaurant company agreed to pay $600,000 to resolve a four-year investigation by the New York attorney general’s office into allegations that Batali, restaurant managers and other workers sexually harassed employees.
In Boston, he opened the Eataly location in the 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 and the Babbo restaurant in the city has closed.