Celebrity chef Mario Batali found not guilty of groping fan who took a selfie with him

Judge said the woman accusing chef was not credibile witness, citing photographic evidence and past actions

Graig Graziosi
Tuesday 10 May 2022 20:26 BST
Sexual Assault Mario Batali
Sexual Assault Mario Batali (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Celebrity chef Mario Batali has been found not guilty after he was accused of groping a fan while taking a selfie with her.

Natali Tene, a fan of Mr Batali, said she posed for a photo with him, and while doing so he groped her just out of sight of the camera.

“His right hand is all over my breasts, all over my rear end, all between my legs,” Ms Tene said during her testimony. “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.”

Mr Batali denied the allegations and opted for a bench trial. He was charged with indecent assault and battery relating to the alleged groping incident in 2019.

Judge James Stanton said the court could not overcome the burden of proof necessary to convict Mr Batali, and said photographic evidence weighed heavily on his decision.

"Pictures tell a thousand words", he said, claiming the distance between the two in the photos and the time between shots suggested Mr Batali was not close enough to Ms Tene to have groped her.

Further weighing on the case is the alleged lack of credibility of Ms Tene. Judge Stanton referenced Ms Tene’s previous time serving on a jury, and said she engaged in “egregious” behaviour while she was in service of the court.

He also claimed that a prior incident in which she allegedly faked legal documents to avoid paying a $200 gym fee further cast doubt on her credibility as a witness.

Judge Stanton said the court believed Ms Tene made her accusations with a financial motive in mind.

The celebrity chef faced several other allegations in 2017, which were collected in an Eater report which spoke with four women who said Mr Batali "touched them inappropriately in a pattern of behaviour that appears to span at least two decades."

Mr Batali stepped away from his business and his restaurant group cut ties with him in 2018 following the allegations.

In 2017 Mr Batali was also reprimanded after an employee lodged an official complaint against him for his behaviour. At the time, he did not deny all of the accusations and issued an apology after he was reprimanded.

“I apologise 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,” he said at the time.

“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.”

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