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Fifth Teamsters member arrested in ‘Top Chef’ case

Michael Ross, a member of The Teamsters Local 25 left the Moakley Courthouse this afternoon following his arraignment on extortion charges.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

A day after admitting that one of five local Teamsters indicted in an alleged plot to extort a television crew was the wrong man, federal authorities said they got the right one Thursday when they arrested another bald-headed, tattooed member of Charlestown-based Local 25.

Michael Ross, 59, of North Billerica, who appeared in federal court dressed in a Patriots jersey, jeans, and flip-flops, was charged with attempted extortion for allegedly plotting with fellow Teamsters to harass “Top Chef” crew members last year for using nonunion drivers while filming the popular food show in Greater Boston.

US Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler released Ross on a $50,000 unsecured bond and warned him to stay away from the four other Teamsters also facing charges in the case.


His attorney, Kevin L. Barron, said outside the courtroom the prosecution against the union members turned on a “word game. You can’t say, ‘We’ll picket you if you don’t hire us,’ but you can say, ‘We have a right to picket you.’ ”

“It’s entirely proper for a union to tell an employer they should not be bringing nonunion people in from out of state to work when there are people here who are out of work,’’ Barron added.

Ross said in court he worked last week on a movie as a driver. Payroll records indicate he worked on the movie “Black Mass” while it was filming in the Boston area, according to court papers.

When US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office obtained the indictment from a grand jury on Wednesday, it listed Richard Jeffrey as one of five defendants. But hours later, prosecutors dropped charges against him, saying only that he had been misidentified.

In court papers filed Thursday, federal officials said Ross and Jeffrey looked so much alike that an FBI agent initially thought Jeffrey appeared in a video of a confrontation between Teamsters and the television crew outside a Milton restaurant on June 10, 2014.


“On the videotape, a bald white male with a gray goatee and tattoos down both arms can be seen walking in circles with his codefendants, who are making threatening gestures and statements to the production crew,’’ FBI Special Agent Kristin Koch wrote, adding that she believed the person was Jeffrey, also a Local 25 member.

But after being alerted by another Teamster that Jeffrey was not in Milton on that day — but Ross was — the FBI reviewed Ross’s driver’s license photograph and Facebook page, and concluded his tattoos matched those of the man in the Milton video.

In a court affidavit, Koch detailed the similarities between Ross and Jeffrey: Both are bald, have gray goatees, and tattoos down both arms, have lost more than 100 pounds in the last year after having gastric bypass surgery, and ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Jeffrey’s attorney, Edward P. Ryan Jr., said his client was in federal custody from 5 a.m. Wednesday, when armed law enforcement officers showed up at his door, until 4:30 p.m., when the charges were dropped.

Ryan said he has asked federal officials to destroy the booking photos, fingerprints, and DNA swab taken from Jeffrey following his arrest. “Wouldn’t it have been nice if she [Koch] took the trouble to compare the tattoos in the video before they arrested the wrong man?” Ryan said.

John Fidler, 51, of Holbrook, who is also charged in the case and had been held overnight without bail, pleaded not guilty Thursday to extortion charges and was released after signing a $50,000 bond secured by his home.


The three other defendants, Mark Harrington, 61, of Andover, who is the local’s secretary-treasurer; Daniel Redmond, 47, of Medford; and Robert Cafarelli, 45, of Middleton, pleaded not guilty Wednesday and were each released on $50,000 unsecured bond.

Fidler has a long criminal history. He was released from federal prison in 2008 following a six-year sentence for selling cocaine while working on the Big Dig, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and conspiring to commit robbery.

In 1985, he was convicted of stabbing several people in downtown Boston and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, of which he served about 10 years.

The new federal indictment alleges that Fidler and the other four Teamsters threatened and harassed the “Top Chef” staff after warning the show’s producers they would picket any event at which the crew did not hire union drivers. The indictment alleges the Teamsters “chest-bumped” the television staff while they were filming at the Steel & Rye restaurant in Milton, yelled profanities and racial and homophobic slurs, blocked vehicles, and slashed tires on the crew’s tires.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com.