BOSTON (CBS/AP) — Celebrity chef Mario Batali appeared briefly in a Boston courtroom Friday morning to face a criminal charge that he forcibly kissed and groped a woman at a Back Bay restaurant in 2017.
Batali, 58, pleaded not guilty to a charge of indecent assault and battery at his arraignment in Boston Municipal Court. He was released on personal recognizance. Judge Thomas Horgan also ordered Batali to stay away from his accuser and witnesses in the case. Batali did not speak to reporters and left without comment.
According to a criminal complaint filed on April 4, the woman said she saw Batali at Towne Stove and Spirits on Boylston Street on March 31, 2017 and that Batali offered to take a selfie with her. She said Batali then groped her breasts, buttocks, and genitals, and kissed her repeatedly without her consent.
The woman initially filed a civil lawsuit last August, which has not been resolved. This is the first criminal charge against the celebrity chef resulting from several sexual harassment and assault allegations that crippled his career.
“Mr. Batali denies the allegations in both this criminal complaint and the civil complaint filed last August. 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,” his attorney Anthony Fuller said in a statement.
The woman’s attorneys said Batali “abused his celebrity status.”
“The criminal charges brought against him are independent of the ongoing civil lawsuit. Mr. Batali must be held accountable criminally and civilly for his despicable acts,” attorneys Eric Baum and Matthew Fogelman said in a statement.
“These kind of allegations are more serious because there is the possibility of criminal repercussions, which could include some jail time for him,” said WBZ-TV legal analyst Jennifer Roman. “If she is successful in the criminal case, then her civil lawsuit is almost a done deal.”
Customers of Eataly in Boston, which Batali has recently separated from financially, expressed unhappiness about Batali’s alleged behavior.
“That’s disgusting,” said customer Katie Obian. “Just because someone is rich or famous doesn’t give them the right to do anything like that.”
“I feel much happier shopping at Eataly now that they’re separating themselves,” said customer Dean Haetzold.
If convicted, Batali faces up to two-and-a-half years in prison and he would have to register as a sex offender.
The next pre-trial hearing in the criminal case is scheduled for July 12. The judge said Batali does not have to attend.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)