Four Teamsters were not engaging in aggressive labor activity when they confronted the stars and staff of the “Top Chef” reality show but were intent on getting money and jobs they were not entitled to, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.
“This was not a picket, no matter how many times defense attorneys used that word in this courtroom,” Assistant US Attorney Kristina Barclay said Thursday in closing arguments at the Teamsters’ federal extortion trial.
“This was four men threatening to cause harm to the ‘Top Chef’ show in order to get wages, jobs — and that is extortion,” she said.
The trial in US District Court in Boston included testimony from Padma Lakshmi, the celebrity host of the Bravo network cooking show, and culinary judge Gayle Simmons. The two are familiar faces to many viewers of the show, in which aspiring chefs compete to cook the most delicious dishes.
Lakshmi testified earlier this week that she was “terrified” during an encounter with the Teamsters; Simmons said she was “very afraid.”
Oscar Cruz, defense attorney for Teamster Daniel Redmond, said Redmond and others had a right to picket after Teamsters negotiations with the show “abruptly ended.”
“There is a recognition that Teamsters have a right to protest,” Cruz said.
“This is all Hollywood, film people who don’t like being called names, don’t like being harassed,” he said.
Redmond, 49; John Fidler, 53; Robert Cafarelli, 47; and Michael Ross, 62 — are charged with conspiracy and attempted extortion, and face up to 20 years in prison. They represented the Charlestown-based Teamsters Local 25.
Ross’s attorney, Kevin Barron, said, “Really, what’s going on here is reality television doesn’t want to be unionized. It’s got its own business model and doesn’t want to change.”
“Is there extortion going on, or is this a protest? That’s what you have to ask yourself,” Barron said.
Prosecutors allege the Teamsters used roughhouse tactics and attempted to disrupt filming for the show at the Steel & Rye restaurant in Milton, a community that borders Boston, in June 2014 in an attempt to extort jobs as drivers with union-scale wages.
The trial has put an uncomfortable spotlight on the…