For a second day, jurors in the Top Chef extortion trial have ended their deliberations without reaching a verdict on the fate of four Boston Teamsters accused to trying to shake down the show for unneeded driving jobs.
As first reported by Deadline, the four men — all members of Boston Teamsters Local 25 — had set up a picket line on June 10, 2014, outside the Steel & Rye restaurant in suburban Milton, where the show was filming. When Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi tried to cross their picket line, several Teamsters rushed her minivan, and according to testimony during the trial, one of them — John Fidler — leaned into her window “so close she could smell him” and threatened to “smash her pretty face in.”
Lakshmi testified that she was terrified and thought he was going to punch her. He and the other Teamsters kept at it for hours, showering cast and crew with racist, sexist and homophobic slurs, and slashing the tires on nine production vehicles. Click here to watch a brief NSFW video of the incident that was shown in court this week.
Fidler, Daniel Redmond, Robert Cafarelli and Michael Ross are charged with attempting to shake down the show for unwanted, unneeded and superfluous services under the threat of violence and the fear of economic harm. Each faces up to 20 years in prison, though they probably would receive much less time. A fifth Teamster, Mark Harrington, the local’s former secretary-treasurer, pleaded guilty to the same charges in December and was sentenced to six months of home confinement.
Defense attorneys called no witnesses during the trial but argued in closing that this was a legitimate labor dispute in which their clients were seeking jobs, not for themselves, but for their union brothers and sisters. All four of the defendants had been employed on the Johnny Depp film Black Mass at the time of the Top Chef fracas.
In October, the AFL-CIO urged the U.S. Attorney’s office to drop the charges, saying that a conviction would have a chilling effect on all labor protests.
Essentially, the dispute was a clash of two worlds that turned very ugly — the world of non-union reality television versus a union town and a Boston Teamsters local fiercely protective of its turf.
The case got off to a rocky start when the FBI arrested — and the U.S. Attorney indicted — an innocent man.
This major gaffe stemmed from the fact that two members of Local 25 look very much alike, from their bald heads right down to their tattoos. From crime scene photos, witnesses identified one of the culprits as Daniel Jeffrey, who was then put under arrest. The Bureau, however, soon realized its mistake and released him, and arrested his look-alike, Ross.
This case of mistaken identity apparently is what led the judge in the case to prohibit witnesses from making in-court identifications — pointing to a defendant and saying, “That’s the man I saw standing near the car with the slashed tires.”
Instead, witnesses and jurors were shown photos of the defendants accused of threatening and harassing members of the cast and crew, leaving it up to prosecutors to put names to the faces being shown on screen.
All this made it rather difficult for reporters — if not for jurors — to figure out who was being accused of doing what to whom.
U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock is presiding over the case..Jury deliberations are due to resume Monday.
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