IN BOS­TON: “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi says she was “ter­ri­fied” in al­leged skir­mish

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By So­nia Rao

An ex­tor­tion trial that pits “Top Chef” against a group of Team­sters con­tin­ued this week in Bos­ton, with host Padma Lakshmi among those tes­ti­fy­ing. Four mem­bers of the Lo­cal 25 union are on trial for al­legedly us­ing ag­gres­sive tac­tics against the re­al­ity show’s tele­vi­sion crew in an at­tempt to shut down film­ing un­less Team­sters were hired to drive pro­duc­tion ve­hi­cles.

The events are said to have tran­spired in June 2014, and the fed­eral court pro­ceed­ings, which be­gan on July 31 with the se­lec­tion of 12 ju­rors, are ex­pected to last two weeks.

The events al­legedly took place while tap­ing out­side Steele & Rye, a restau­rant in Mil­ton, Mass. Pros­e­cu­tors claim the Team­sters — Robert Ca­farelli, John Fi­dler, Daniel Red­mond and Michael Ross — ver­bally ha­rassed and “chest-bumped” mem­bers of the Bravo se­ries’ nonunion crew out of anger that the pro­duc­ers had not hired union driv­ers, ac­cord­ing to ABC News. (Pro­duc­tion as­sis­tants drove in­stead.)

Pros­e­cu­tors also al­lege that a Team­ster at­tempted to block a ve­hi­cle car­ry­ing Lakshmi from en­ter­ing Steele & Rye’s drive- way, telling the celebrity host some­thing along the lines of, “We’re go­ing to bash your pretty lit­tle face in.”

The ju­rors have to de­cide whether the de­fen­dants’ ac­tions qual­ify as ex­tor­tion.

The Team­sters had threat­ened to picket if “Top Chef” pro­duc­ers didn’t hire union driv­ers, ac­cord­ing to the Bos­ton Globe, and de­fense lawyers have said the union mem­bers have a right to picket if they choose.

“This is the life of Amer­ica. Peo­ple have a right to or­ga­nize and de­mand things from em­ploy­ers,” said Kevin Bar­ron, Ross’s lawyer. “There was no ex­tor­tion, no crime, no con­spir­acy. … Just five mid­dle-aged truck driv­ers do­ing a picket.”

Prospec­tive ju­rors were ques- tioned about their “feel­ings on or­ga­nized la­bor, lewd, sex­ist and racist lan­guage, and law en­force­ment,” the Globe re­ported. The Team­sters, if con­victed, could face sen­tences up to 20 years.

Pros­e­cu­tors have ques­tioned the con­duct of lo­cal po­lice, too.

Pros­e­cu­tors stated on Fri­day that lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cers failed to in­ter­vene when the Team­sters al­legedly ha­rassed the “Top Chef” team, Dead­line re­ported. Mul­ti­ple wit­nesses have claimed the of­fi­cers did noth­ing — no ar­rests were made fol­low­ing the in­ci­dent — and the pros­e­cu­tors showed pho­tos of slashed tires on ve­hi­cles be­long­ing to the “Top Chef” crew mem­bers.

“I got bumped from be­hind,” pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant Ian Buchanan tes­ti­fied on Fri­day, ac­cord­ing to Dead­line. “I didn’t see who hit me. A group of men cor­nered me. The po­lice saw the skir­mish. He told me to leave them alone.”

Lakshmi tes­ti­fied Mon­day morn­ing that she was “ter­ri­fied” when she ar­rived at Steele & Rye.

Though a pre­miere date has yet to be an­nounced, Bravo was in Colorado ear­lier this sum­mer film­ing the 15th sea­son of “Top Chef.” Lakshmi re­turns as the host, along with judges Tom Colic­chio, Gail Sim­mons and Gra­ham El­liot.

Charles Sykes, In­vi­sion

Padma Lakshmi is in­volved in a law­suit be­ing heard this week in a Bos­ton court­room.

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