Mario Batali Acquitted of Sexual Assault, But Scandal Cost Him Las Vegas Restaurants

Posted on: May 11, 2022, 06:31h. 

Last updated on: May 11, 2022, 03:08h.

Mario Batali, 61, one of the country’s most acclaimed celebrity chefs and restaurateurs prior to the sexual misconduct allegations raised against him in 2017, has been acquitted of those charges.

Mario Batali Las Vegas restaurant casino
A relieved Mario Batali reacts after being found not guilty of indecent assault and battery at Boston Municipal Court on May 10, 2022, in Boston. The case still cost Batali his three restaurants in Las Vegas. (Image: AP)

Boston Municipal Court Judge James Stanton yesterday agreed with Batali’s defense team that his accuser, 32-year-old Natali Tene, had credibility issues in her claims that the chef forcibly groped and kissed her in a Boston restaurant in 2017. Tene alleged that she sought a selfie with the chef, but after approaching him, Batali kissed her and felt her chest.

Photographs of the incident, Stanton concluded, suggested that the encounter was amicable.

Pictures are worth a thousand words,” the judge declared. However, he didn’t go so far as to say Batali was a total victim in the case. Stanton scolded the chef for his seemingly intoxicated state during the incident.

“It’s an understatement to say that Mr. Batali did not cover himself in glory on the night in question,” Stanton continued. “His conduct, his appearance, and his demeanor were not befitting of a public person of his stature at that time.”

Prosecutors nonetheless thanked Tene.

“It can be incredibly difficult for a victim to disclose a sexual assault,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Kevin Hayden. “When the individual who committed such an abhorrent act is in a position of power or celebrity, the decision to report an assault can become all the more challenging and intimidating.”

Las Vegas Restaurants 86’d

Batali was facing more than two years in prison and would have been required to register as a sex offender. The restauranteur took a gamble in seeking a bench trial over a jury. But his defense team correctly believed that a judge would likelier see past the wrongful allegations.

Bench trials, or allowing a single judge to determine the outcome of a case instead of a jury, are common when the defendant could come across as unlikable to jurors.

Though Batali has been deemed innocent of sexual misconduct, the incident cost him multiple restaurants and millions of dollars in lost earnings. In Las Vegas, Batali’s three restaurants at the Venetian and Palazzo closed five months after the allegations.

Las Vegas Sands, which at the time owned and operated the two Strip resorts, allowed the lease agreements for Batali’s eateries to expire without renewal. That led to the closures of The Palazzo’s CarneVino, a high-end Italian steakhouse, plus The Venetian’s Italian B&B Ristorante and OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria.

All were highly regarded restaurants and drew visitors to the Sands resorts. CarneVino had a 4.7/5 rating on Google from 5,000 reviews. B&B was rated 4.6/5 on more than 3,000 reviews.

Batali Admits Wrongful Actions

Batali’s reputation was greatly helped this week with the Stanton ruling. But the chef admits he has let his guard down in the past, and at times likely acted inappropriately.

Soon after the 2017 allegations surfaced, Batali conceded that the claims “match up” with ways he’d handled himself in the past.

I have made many mistakes,” Batali said at the time. “My behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility.”

While Batali’s behavior might have been “wrong,” Stanton found it wasn’t illegal.

Last year, Batali, his business partner and their New York City restaurant company agreed to pay $600,000 as a settlement in a four-year investigation by the New York attorney general’s office. That probe looked into allegations that Batali and other staff sexually harassed employees.

Batali has also lost his position as host of ABC-TV’s “The Chew,” and no longer appears on the Food Network, where he once was a regular guest on various shows, most prominently “Iron Chef.”