Mario Batali pleaded not guilty to charges of indecent sexual assault and battery at an arraignment hearing Friday in Boston Municipal Court, according to media reports.
The onetime celebrity chef is accused of groping and forcibly kissing a woman who asked to take a photo with him at a Boston restaurant in 2017. If convicted, he could face up to two and a half years in prison and would have to register as a sex offender.
Batali did not speak during the hearing, according to an Associated Press report, but nodded when the judge ordered that he should stay away from the alleged victim. The former Eataly owner was released and his presence has been waived for the next court date of July 12.
The criminal complaint matches a civil complaint filed by a plaintiff in August 2018, following the alleged assault incident on March 31, 2017, in which the defendant allegedly grabbed and kissed the victim and "rubbed her breasts, grabbed her buttocks, put his hands between her legs and groped her groin area, and kept forcefully squeezing her face into his as he kissed her repeatedly." The plaintiff is seeking unspecified damages for ‘‘severe emotional distress.’’
Batali’s lawyers called the charges “without merit:”
“Mr. Batali denies the allegations in both this criminal complaint and the civil complaint filed last August,” Hogan Lovells LLP partner Anthony Fuller said in a statement on Thursday. “The charges, brought by the same individual without any new basis, are without merit. He intends to fight the allegations vigorously and we expect the outcome to fully vindicate Mr. Batali.”
These are the first criminal assault charges Batali faces in light of a number of sexual misconduct allegations made against the celebrity chef. He was first accused of sexually harassing and inappropriately touching four women — three of whom were former employees — in December 2017.
Batali shortly thereafter stepped down from operations at B&B Hospitality Group and Eataly, which he operated with Joe Bastianich and family members. Later, ABC’s “The Chew,” a talk show that Batali co-hosted, was canceled amid the accusations. Batali released an apology, stating that “much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with the ways I have acted.”
A subsequent CBS “60 Minutes” report detailed more allegations of Batali drugging and assaulting women in 2004 and 2005. Batali denied these accusations.
In January, the New York Police Department dropped its sexual misconduct investigations into Batali, saying that one case was outside the statute of limitations and police were unable to find probable cause with both.
In March 2019, Batali was bought out from B&B Hospitality Group and its 16 restaurants (including Babbo and Del Posto). He is now divested from his former restaurants and hospitality properties.
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