The jury in the Top Chef attempted extortion trial of four Boston Teamsters is facing a crisis in its third day of deliberations and is not sure how to proceed. The jury forewoman has informed U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock that one of the jurors “is assuming guilt over innocence” and that the jurors “are not sure how to proceed from here.” In her handwritten note, she told the judge that “any suggestions would be helpful.”
In his handwritten response, Woodlock told the jury: “It is a cardinal principal of our system of justice that every person is presumed innocent unless and until his guilt is established beyond a reasonable doubt from evidence properly introduced and admitted at trial. The presumption is not a mere technicality. It is the matter of the utmost importance.”
The jury of nine women and three men is attempting to decide the fate of Local 25 Teamsters John Fidler, Daniel Redmond, Robert Cafarelli and Michael Ross, who are accused of attempting to shake down the show for unwanted, unneeded and superfluous services under the threat of violence and the fear of economic harm. Defense attorneys counter that the men’s actions on the picket line that day in June 2014 were part of a legitimate labor dispute.
If convicted, each faces a maximum of 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.
As first reported by Deadline, the Teamsters had set up a picket line on June 10, 2014, outside the Steel & Rye restaurant in Milton, a suburb of Boston, 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 the Teamsters leaned into her passenger-side 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. The 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.
Local police were present throughout the three-hour labor dispute, but no state charges were ever filed. What the jury must decide is whether the defendants are guilty of the federal charges of attempting to extort and conspiracy to commit extortion.
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.