BOSTON (CBS) — The four Teamsters in the Top Chef extortion trial were found not guilty Tuesday morning.
The jury reached a verdict after about 19 hours of deliberation.
Prosecutors had alleged John Fidler, Michael Ross, Daniel Redmond, and Robert Cafarelli were trying to extort jobs from the reality show while it filmed in Milton in 2014.
They alleged they did so by threatening and harassing the cast and crew because the production wouldn’t hire union labor from Local 25.
The four were charged with attempted extortion and conspiracy to extort.
They were accused by the Top Chef cast and production crew of shouting racial and homophobic slurs at the cast and crew, slashing tires, damaging equipment, and using physical violence outside Milton restaurant Steel & Rye in 2014.
However, they were on trial for the alleged extortion, and not for their behavior.
“There is a large labor movement and issues across the country regarding pickets and what’s acceptable, what isn’t acceptable,” said Carmine Lepore, Cafarelli’s attorney. “I’m going to leave that for the experts.”
Acting U.S. Attorney William Weinreb said in a statement that his office was disappointed in the verdict.
“The government believed, and continues to believe, that the conduct in this case crossed the line and constituted a violation of federal law,” he wrote. “The defendants’ conduct was an affront to all of the hard-working and law-abiding members of organized labor.”
The defense said their actions were simply a picketing protest, and did not constitute extortion. They pointed out that the men were working on the set of the film “Black Mass” at the time, and said they were advocating for their fellow union members.
Asked outside of court if he felt justice was done, Fidler said “absolutely.”
Some of the defendants expressed mixed feelings, saying the ordeal of being on trial had been a difficult situation.
“It’s been a long hard road for my client and his family, and for all these men,” said Lapore. “We’ve always felt this prosecution was misplaced, and it goes without saying we’re glad that the jury saw this case for what it was.”
They felt they were depicted in a negative light when cell phone video shown in court featured the men using choice language outside the Milton restaurant.
Cafarelli was asked outside court if he thought City Hall was the “big loser” in the case–but he responded, “I think the four of us were the big losers.”
He said he felt “good,” and said “the best part is that I’m walking with my friends.”
Host Padma Lakshmi told the court in her testimony last week that she was “terrified” by the actions of the Teamsters, and said she felt bullied and threatened.
During deliberation, jurors asked the judge for advice after they said one juror was assuming guilt over innocence.
Early Monday afternoon, the jury wrote in a question to the judge, “We have a juror who is assuming guilt over innocence. We are not sure how to go on from here. Any suggestions would be helpful.”
The judge replied that every defendant is presumed innocent until guilt is established.
“It is a cardinal principle of our system of justice that every person is presumed innocent unless and until his guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt from evidence properly introduced and admitted at trial,” wrote the judge. “The presumption is not a mere formality. It is a matter of the utmost importance.”
That juror appeared to have had a change of heart Tuesday morning.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Lana Jones reports