Celebrity chef Mario Batali has been acquitted in his sexual misconduct case.
A judge found Batali not guilty on charges of indecent assault and battery after he was accused of groping and forcibly kissing a woman at a restaurant in 2017. The verdict came just one day after the trial began. Batali opted for a non-jury trial and left the decision in the judge's hands.
Judge James Stanton found that while Batali's conduct was "not befitting of a public person of his stature," there were "significant credibility issues" with his accuser, which "support the defendant's contention that her motive was financial gain."
The woman, Natali Tene, testified that she was "surprised" and "alarmed" when Batali groped her while they were taking a photo together. The defense accused her of fabricating the claims "for money and for fun."
The judge ruled an examination of the photos suggested "a separation" between Batali and the accuser, and he said it was "significant" that there was a "three minute lapse of time" in the middle of them taking the photos together. "This is all allegedly as a serious sexual assault was happening," Stanton said, and he concluded the prosecution failed to prove Batali guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Batali's trial came more than four years after he first faced allegations of sexual misconduct, leading him to step down from the ABC talk show The Chew. He apologized at the time, saying his "behavior was wrong" and that "I take full responsibility."