Opening Arguments Beginning in Teamsters ‘Top Chef’ Extortion Case

The case, which is drawing national attention, could have an impact on Boston's City Hall

Jurors heard opening arguments Tuesday in the federal trial in Boston of four Teamsters accused of intimidating the staff and crew of the "Top Chef" reality TV show in 2014. 

Prosecutors allege the Local 25 union members threatened to picket if the show's producers did not hire union drivers. They also say union members threatened and harassed the crew of the show's non-union production company. 

The defense argues they were simply exercising their right to picket.

Court documents say one of the defendants threatened one of the show's host, Padma Lakshmi, during a confrontation, allegedly saying he would "smash your pretty little face in."

Lakshmi is expected to testify.

The men have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to extort, and aiding and abetting. 

Before opening arguments, the judge addressed an issue involving a news report interview with one of the defendants, John Fidler, which included information that had not yet been entered into evidence. The judge said he was upset he had to make a special order to remind parties, including witnesses, to have zero contact with the media during the duration of the trial.

A former union member and film location scout testified after opening arguments that even he was intimidated, and left his job as a result.

In a plea agreement with prosecutors, a fifth Teamster pleaded guilty last year to attempted extortion and was sentenced to two years' probation with six months of home confinement. Mark Harrington told a judge he was merely trying to get jobs for union members. 

The trial is expected to last two weeks. If convicted, the men could face up to 20 years in prison. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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