Teamsters acquitted in 'Top Chef' alleged extortion case

BOSTON  — A federal jury here acquitted four Teamsters of charges they threatened the cast and non-union crew of reality-TV show Top Chef in 2014, despite dramatic testimony last week from “petrified” host Padma Lakshmi.

The four Teamsters were found not guilty of charges of conspiracy to extort and attempted extortion.

The verdict Tuesday followed 20 hours of deliberations by the jury. And it came eight days after Chef host Lakshmi testified at the trial that she was “petrified” and “terrified” when a Teamster confronted her while union members were picketing outside a Boston-area restaurant where the cooking competition series was filmed.

The Local 25 union members were accused of using strong-arm tactics to extort jobs as drivers with union-scale wages.

Prosecutors alleged they threatened and harassed the crew of the Bravo show’s non-union production company. They claim the Teamsters were trying to shut down the filming of Top Chef if the show did not hire Teamsters to drive production vehicles. The show had already hired its own drivers.

Lakshmi, also an author and model, said she was a passenger in a vehicle outside the Steel & Rye restaurant in Milton, south of Boston, where a group of men had formed a line so vehicles could not move forward. She said one man leaned his arm on her door and said: “‘Oh, lookie here, what a pretty face’ or ‘What a shame about that pretty face.’“

“I felt he was bullying me,” Lakshmi said. “I felt he was saying, ‘I might hit you.’“

Gail Simmons, a judge on Top Chef, also testified last week, saying she was “incredibly afraid” as she arrived at the restaurant and saw the men block the vehicle’s path.

Lawyers for the men insisted they were merely demonstrating against the non-union crew, exercising their right to picket for driving jobs. They argued Top Chef crew members escalated the incident in Milton.

 

usatoday.com