Mario Batali, the celebrity chef who stepped away from his restaurant empire after several women accused him of sexual harassment and assault, is now facing criminal charges for allegedly kissing and groping a woman against her will in a Back Bay restaurant in 2017.
Batali, 58, is charged with indecent assault and battery in what appears to be the first criminal charge to arise from a series of sexual misconduct allegations against him. He is scheduled to be arraigned in Boston Municipal Court on Friday morning.
His accuser’s name was redacted from court records, but the account matches that of a Massachusetts woman who filed a civil lawsuit against Batali last August.
In a statement, the woman’s lawyers said she is “grateful that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office in Boston has chosen to go forward in prosecuting Mario Batali on criminal charges of sexually assaulting her.”
“Mr. Batali must be held accountable criminally and civilly for his despicable acts,” said the lawyers, Eric Baum and Matthew Fogelman.
The woman told police she saw Batali at Towne Stove and Spirits on Boylston Street on March 31, 2017, according to a criminal complaint filed April 4.
The restaurant is near Eataly Boston, the Prudential Center Italian marketplace that was part of Batali’s restaurant portfolio.
She was eating dinner at the bar with a friend and recognized Batali sitting a few seats away, according to the criminal complaint.
The woman told police she was taking a picture of Batali over her shoulder when he noticed her and told her to “come here right now,” according to court records. She went over to apologize and tell him she would erase the photo, but Batali told her it was OK and offered to take a selfie with her.
As she stood next to his bar stool, Batali put his arm around the woman and then grabbed her chest, she told police. He then allegedly started kissing her face and touching her groin without her consent, records show.
The woman said she stopped taking photos and pulled away from Batali. She said he kept “pulling on her face” and asked her if she wanted to join him in his hotel room nearby at the Mandarin Oriental, adding that Batali seemed intoxicated “by the smell and half closed eyes,” according to the criminal complaint.
She declined and quickly left the restaurant with her friend.
In the civil complaint filed by the Massachusetts woman last summer, her attorneys wrote that her encounter with Batali left her badly shaken.
“Without asking her permission or giving her any warning, and without having received any indication that she had any sexual interest in him whatsoever, which she did not, Batali sexually assaulted her,” her lawyers wrote in the civil complaint.
A lawyer representing Batali said his client denies the accusations.
“The charges, brought by the same individual without any new basis, are without merit,” said Anthony Fuller, a partner in the Boston office of the law firm Hogan Lovells. “He intends to fight the allegations vigorously and we expect the outcome to fully vindicate Mr. Batali.”
If convicted, Batali could face 2½ years in jail and would have to register as a sex offender.
Like some of the other powerful men who have been accused of sexual misconduct during the #MeToo movement, Batali had faced civil litigation but until now had avoided criminal charges.
In December 2017, three of Batali’s former employees and a chef who did not work for him accused him of inappropriately touching them, according to an article on the food publication Eater.
In a statement at the time, Batali said “I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt.”
“Although the identities of most of the individuals mentioned in these stories have not been revealed to me, much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses,” he said at the time.
Police in New York City investigated the accusations, but ultimately decided not to file criminal charges, The New York Times reported in January.
The statute of limitations had run out on two of the cases, and they did not believe they had enough evidence to prove the third, the newspaper reported. The cases could be reopened if more evidence surfaces.
Since the allegations became public, Batali has stepped back from his restaurant and business ventures, which include the restaurant Babbo Pizzeria on Fan Pier.
Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org