Teamsters Acquitted at ‘Top Chef’ Extortion Trial

BOSTON (CN) – The four Teamsters who crashed a “Top Chef” shoot with shouting and slurs won acquittal on federal extortion charges Tuesday.

Before reporting their unanimous verdict at 11 a.m., after a little more than two days of deliberation, the jury tipped their hand Monday afternoon with a letter to U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock that sought guidance on a juror who was “assuming guilt over innocence.”

Robert Cafarelli, John Fidler, Daniel Remond and Michael Ross were facing the extortion charges after staging a protest on the set of “Top Chef” in 2014 when the popular reality competition show was shooting in the Boston area.

On one day of production in the Boston suburb of Milton, while the “Top Chef” crew was shooting at the restaurant Steel and Rye, the Teamsters were caught on video berating the show’s producers with anti-gay and racist slurs.

The Teamsters claimed that they were lawfully picketing in the interest of getting the show to hire union drivers from Teamsters Local 25, but not themselves. The four Teamsters on trial also said they already had jobs.

Defense attorney Kevin Barron, who represented Ross, argued in his closing statement last week that his client did not extort anyone. Citing testimony from a producer, he said the Teamsters were offered cash to leave the set and they refused.

“The blood money was offered and refused,” Barron had said. “That’s a gaping hole in the government’s case.”

The trial lasted six days, with the defense opting to rest immediately after the prosecution, declining to call a single witness.

Among the witnesses who took the stand for the prosecution meanwhile were “Top Chef” stars Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons, who host and judge the show, respectively.

Lakshmi claimed to have been directly threatened with violence by one of the Teamsters, and Simmons testified that she was terrified by the encounter at the Milton restaurant.

Mark Harrington, a fifth union member was present at the “Top Chef” skirmish, pleaded guilty in 2015 and was sentenced to two years of probation, six months of which included house arrest.

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