The defense rested today without calling a single witness in the trial of four Boston Teamsters accused of attempting to extort unwanted, unneeded and superfluous driving jobs from the producers of the Top Chef TV show. Closing arguments will be heard Thursday in U.S. District Court in Boston, and then the case will go to the jury.
During the five-plus days of trial, prosecutors put on a string of witnesses who testified that they’d seen or been subjected to threats of violence by picketing Teamsters, though the defendants — all members of Boston Teamsters Local 25 — were rarely mentioned by name, and the judge would not allow them to be pointed out in court. Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi, the prosecution’s star witness, testified Monday that she “felt threatened” and thought a Teamster “might hit me” as she was being driven through their picket line in June 2014 on her way to filming an episode of the non-union show at the Steel & Rye restaurant the Boston suburb in Milton. Several witnesses testified that Milton police officers on hand “did nothing” as Teamsters showered the cast and crew with racist, sexist and homophobic insults. The tires on nine production vehicles were also slashed, though no arrests were ever made for that either. Click here to watch video from the scene that was in shown in court.
The prosecution rested its case earlier in the day after recalling its final witness to the witness stand. Sandee Birdsong, the show’s longtime supervising culinary producer, testified today that she heard the driver of a delivery truck say that one of the Teamsters said he’d “put a bomb in the truck” if he tried to make his delivery to the restaurant and had been paid $20 by the Teamsters to leave without making the delivery.
During cross-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses, attorneys for defendants John Fidler, Robert Cafarelli, Daniel Redmond and Michael Ross tried to convince the jury that this was a legitimate labor dispute and that there was no attempt by any of their clients to extort unneeded jobs from Magical Elves, the show’s production company. To that end, they got Birdsong to recount how an official of IATSE Prop Local 44 in Los Angeles had called her on the set of Top Chef in Boston and “wanted us to walk out” in support of the Teamsters. “I assume he knew that if we walked off, it would stop the production,” she testified. It was, perhaps, the best evidence that at least one other union official thought that this was a bona fide labor dispute worthy of support.
The four Teamsters have pleaded not guilty to extortion charges. Mark Harrington, Local 25’s former secretary-treasurer, pleaded guilty to the same charges in December and is serving six months of home confinement and two years of probation. He’s also been ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and restitution of $24,000.