Top Chef Extortion, Teamsters, John Fidler, Michael Ross, Dan Redmond, Robert Cafarelli

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Four Teamster union members have been found not guilty in an extortion case involving Top Chef

On Monday, Boston-based Local 25 union members John Fidler, Daniel Redmond, Robert Cafarelli and Michael Ross were acquitted on counts of conspiracy to extort and attempted extortion, as reported by Boston Globe reporter Maria Cramer inside the court room. The four men were initially accused of disrupting the filming of Top Chef, threatening the crew and demanding the non-union production company agree to hire Local 25 members, Boston station WCVB previously reported.

The case stemmed from a June 2014 confrontation between the Teamsters and the show's non-union production company's crew at a Boston restaurant where they were filming scenes for the show's 12th season at the time. During the confrontation, the teamsters were accused of trying to forcibly enter the restaurant while "chest-bumping" and "stomach-bumping" crew members, slashing tires and hurling racial slurs and physical threats at host Padma Lakshmi and other production members. Meanwhile, defense lawyers for the men argued they had exercised their right to picket and did not act unlawfully. The men pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

Mark Harrington, former secretary-treasurer of Local 25, pleaded guilty last year to attempted extortion as part of a plea deal and was sentenced to two years of probation, six months of house arrest and fines.

Padma Lakshmi, Court

Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Lakshmi, who testified during the trial, accused Fidler of bullying her when she arrived to set that day. 

"One guy came up to the car, and I had the windows down," she said in court, according to Boston Globe reporter Milton Valencia. "He rested his arm on the door when the window was down, [and said], 'Oh looky here, what a pretty face, or what a shame about that pretty face.' And he said something to my driver which was very derogatory."

Lakshmi said her heart began pounding, and continued, "I felt he was bullying me. I felt he was saying, 'I might hit you.'" 

In court on Monday, Fidler rubbed his temples and looked gratefully at the jury after hearing the not guilty verdict, according to Cramer. Judge Douglas Woodlock told the court the case involved difficult questions about labor issues, according to Cramer. As she quoted him in court, "You have been grappling with some of the most difficult issues."

"It's been along hard road for my client and his family. We've also felt this prosecution was misplaced. We're glad the jury saw this case for what it was," defense attorneys said in a statement after the trial. 

As for the prosecution, U.S. attorney William Weinreb said in a statement issued Monday, "We are disappointed in today's verdict. The government believed, and continues to believe, that the conduct in this case crossed the line and constituted a violation of federal law. The defendants' conduct was an affront to all of the hard-working and law-abiding members of organized labor. We will continue to aggressively prosecute extortion in all its forms to ensure that Boston remains a safe and welcoming place to do business. I would like to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General for their work investigating this case."

(E! and Bravo are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)

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