Celebrity chef Mario Batali was found not guilty of sexual misconduct on Tuesday after a two-day trial in a Boston court.
Batali, who pleaded not guilty to indecent assault and battery in 2019, faced up to two and a half years in prison and would have had to register as a sexual offender if he'd been found guilty.
Boston Municipal Court Judge James Stanton said there were "credibility" issues with the complaining witness that led to reasonable doubt, according to NBC News.
The 61-year-old former Food Network star unexpectedly waived his right to have a jury decide his fate, leaving it up to Judge Stanton, when the trial began on Monday.
Batali's accuser, Natali Tene, a 32-year-old software company worker from Massachusetts, testified that she'd been "shocked, surprised and alarmed" when Batali allegedly kissed and groped her while the pair took multiple selfies at a Boston restaurant in 2017.
"This happened to me and this is my life," Tene said Monday when asked by prosecutors why she decided to come forward. "I want to be able to take control of what happened, come forward, say my peace and have everyone be accountable for their actions and behaviors."
Batali’s lawyer Anthony Fuller argued that the assault never happened and said the accuser, who also filed a separate lawsuit against Batali in the Suffolk County Superior Court, seeking unspecified damages for "severe emotional distress," wasn’t a credible witness and had a financial incentive to lie.
Nina Bonelli, assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, defended Tene’s claims in her closing argument, denying the claims that she was just seeking monetary compensation.
Despite his verdict, Judge Stanton still condemned Batali's behavior that night.
"It’s an understatement to say that Mr. Batali did not cover himself in glory on the night in question, his conduct and his appearance and his demeanor were not befitting of a public person of his stature at that time," Stanton said.
Four different women accused Batali of inappropriate touching at the height of the #MeToo movement in 2017.
Following the women’s accusations, Batali stepped down from day-to-day operations at his restaurant empire. He also left the ABC cooking show "The Chew," which was later cancelled in 2018.
"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, which included a recipe for cinnamon rolls — a move that was widely scorned. "My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility."
In 2021, Batali, his business partner and their New York City restaurant company agreed to pay $600,000 to at least 20 former employees 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.
On Tuesday, Suffolk County DA Kevin Hayden said he didn't regret pressing charges despite the verdict.
"While we’re disappointed in the judge’s verdict, my office will not waiver in our support for the victim in this case," Hayden said in a statement.
"I’m grateful that the victim in this case made the decision to come forward, and to every survivor of sexual assault who makes that difficult decision."