Prosecutors in ‘Top Chef’ Extortion Trial Say Teamsters Threatened Host

BOSTON (CN) – In opening statements of the union members’ extortion trial, prosecutors said Tuesday that a quintet of Boston Teamsters terrified Top Chef star host Padma Lakshmi with a threat to “smash your pretty little face.”

Opening statement took place Tuesday in the trial of four local union members who are accused of threatening the production crew of Top Chef to use union labor.

When the 12th season of popular reality cooking competition show Top Chef came to Boston during the summer of 2014, the show’s production company brought non-union labor, which prosecutors claim incensed union members of Teamsters Local 25.

The tension came to a head while the show was filming at a restaurant just outside of Boston when five members of the union allegedly crashed the production and made threats against the crew for using non-union labor.

“This case is not about picketing,” said Assistant US Attorney Laura Kaplan in her opening statement before U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock. “They did not carry signs or hand out leaflets.”

Robert Cafarelli, John Fidler, Daniel Remond and Michael Ross are all facing extortion charges over the incident at the restaurant. A fifth union member, Mark Harrington, was also present, but he pleaded guilty in 2015 and was sentenced to two years of probation, six months of which included house arrest.

Kaplan said that at one point, the defendants tried to force their way onto the set, while the show was filming at Steel and Rye in Milton, Mass.

The Teamsters allegedly made numerous crass statements and threatened violence to the crew, including celebrity host Padma Lakshmi. Prosecutors say they also demanded that the production crew hire their workers as drivers despite the production not needing the drivers.

According to Kaplan, one of the defendants said to Lakshmi, “Lookie what we have here. I’ll smash your pretty little face.”

Lakshmi is expected to testify later this week.

At the time of the confrontation, the four defendants all had jobs working on the production of “Black Mass,” the Johnny Depp biopic of notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, but they claim that they were advocating for their unemployed “brothers and sisters.”

“The defendants went to Milton to get jobs for their out-of-work brothers and sisters in the union,” said attorney Kevin Barron in the defense team’s opening statement. “That’s what they’re there for. This is real work we’re talking about. Unions have a right, people have a right to organize and demand things from employers. There is no extortion, no crime, no conspiracy, just five middle-aged truck drivers doing a picket.”

Tuesday’s opening arguments followed jury selection on Monday.

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