Celebrity Chef Mario Batali Pleads Not Guilty to Assault Charge in Groping Accusation

Celebrity chef Mario Batali, whose career crumbled amid several sexual misconduct accusations, pleaded not guilty Friday to a charge that he forcibly kissed and groped a woman at a Boston restaurant in 2017.

Wearing a black suit topped with a baseball cap, the 58-year-old Batali entered Boston Municipal Court on a charge of indecent assault and battery. He walked into the courtroom without the hat but kept his Yeezy Boost SPLY 350 shoes on and was ordered to stay away from the woman who filed the lawsuit.

He offered no comment as he made his way into court.

The woman, identified by her attorneys as Natali Tene, filed a civil lawsuit in August alleging that Batali offered to take a selfie with her at Towne Restaurant in the Back Bay and then groped and kissed her repeatedly without her consent.

The complaint stated he "grabbed and kissed" the woman's face, "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."

Batali's attorney, Anthony Fuller, said the chef denies the allegations and intends to fight them vigorously.

The woman's lawyers said in an emailed statement on Thursday that Batali "must be held accountable" for his "despicable acts."

Batali could face up to 2-1/2 years in jail if convicted. He would also have to register as a sex offender.

This is the first criminal charge against the celebrity chef resulting from several sexual harassment and assault allegations that crippled his career.

Batali stepped down from operations of his restaurants and was kicked off the ABC show "The Chew" in 2017 after four women accused him of inappropriate touching. Batali said at the time about those allegations that "much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted."

He also came under fire for sending a newsletter to subscribers that included both an apology for "many mistakes" and a recipe for a "holiday-inspired breakfast."

Batali's food empire included such high-end eateries as Babbo in Del Posto in New York City, as well as restaurants in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Singapore, and Eataly in Boston. He became a household name through appearances on Food Network shows such as "Iron Chef America."

He announced in March that his longtime partner, Joe Bastianich, and others had bought out his share in his restaurants.

The New York Police Department said last year that it was investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against the chef after a woman told "60 Minutes" that Batali drugged and sexually assaulted her in 2005. Batali denied assaulting the woman.

Batali was released on personal recognizance on Friday. His next court date is scheduled for July 12. The judge ruled he does not have to appear.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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