BOSTON (Reuters) – Celebrity chef and former television star Mario Batali appeared in a Boston courtroom on Friday, where a not-guilty plea was entered on his behalf to a criminal charge that he forcibly groped and kissed a woman at a restaurant in 2017.
Mario Batali leaves Boston Municipal Court after pleading not guilty in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Faith Ninivaggi
Wearing a baseball cap and blazer, Batali, 58, ignored journalists’ questions on his way into and out of Boston Municipal Court, where he was arraigned after being charged with indecent assault and battery.
It is the first criminal case against Batali after the 2017 emergence of the #MeToo movement, which has exposed widespread patterns of sexual harassment or abuse of women in multiple spheres of American life and ended the careers of dozens of powerful men in American media, politics, entertainment and business.
The woman told police that in March 2017 Batali groped her breasts, buttocks and groin and kissed her face after posing with her for a photograph in a Boston restaurant. Authorities did not identify the woman but the claims mirror those levied in a still-pending civil lawsuit filed against Batali in August.
Batali was released on the condition that he avoid contact with the alleged victim.
Batali, who this year sold his stakes in his U.S. restaurants after the accusations against him emerged, denies wrongdoing, said his lawyer, Anthony Fuller.
“He intends to fight the allegations vigorously and we expect the outcome to fully vindicate Mr. Batali,” Fuller said in a statement.
Batali’s charisma and culinary flair turned him into a restaurant executive, television star, author and one of the world’s most recognizable chefs. He premiered on the Food Network in 1997 on the show “Molto Mario” and in 2011 helped launch the daytime cooking show “The Chew” on ABC.
In December 2017, ABC fired Batali after four unnamed women accused him of sexual misconduct that they said spanned at least two decades. The Food Network had also canceled plans to relaunch “Molto Mario.”
The New York Police Department started an investigation after CBS “60 Minutes” reported in May 2018 that Batali drugged and sexually assaulted an employee in 2005. Batali denied the report and police later closed the investigation.
Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Trott