3 Things To Watch For In Today's Teamster's Trial

A U.S. District Court court room at the Moakley Courthouse on Boston's waterfront.

Credit: mad.uscourts.gov

Teamsters, "Top Chef" Extortion Trial Goes To The Jury

August 10, 2017

UPDATED: 5 pm 

The case against four members of the Boston Teamsters Local 25 is now the hands of a federal jury.

Daniel Redmond, John Fidler, Robert Cafarelli and Michael Ross are accused of attempting to extort the reality show "Top Chef"when it didn't hire union labor for its 2014 Boston season.

Federal prosecutors and lawyers for the defendants offered their closing statements this morning. Federal Judge Douglas Woodlock has instructed the jury and the 12 jurors are now deliberating.

Prosecutors said that the days of testimony describing the show's crew being assailed by Teamsters with offensive language and threats – proves that the defendants used violent intimidation to try to force the show to hire union labor it didn't want or need.

“This was not a negotiation, or a picket, or a demonstration,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristina Barclay told the jury. “This was four men threatening to cause physical harm to the crew of Top Chef in order to get wages, jobs – wages for unwanted and superfluous services. And that is extortion.”

Lawyers for the four defendants countered that while their clients behavior may not have been pleasant, they were staging a lawful protest of the show's employment practices when it came to union labor – and not attempting to extort jobs.

Defense attorney Oscar Cruz, who is representing defendant Daniel Redmond, pointed to testimony by one "Top Chef" official who said he had been willing to pay some amount of money to the Teamsters just to keep them away from the set – but not to hire them.

“The Teamsters were not interested in a payoff,” Cruz said. “In other words [the Teamsters were saying], 'Let's do this above-board. And if you're not going to do that, guess what? We're going to picket you. We're going to demonstrate against a non-union company that's not willing to hire union drivers.”

The testimony of the apparent failed negotiation marked the most significant moment in the trial that could potentially inform another impending trial: that of Kenneth Brissette and Timony Sullivan, both senior members of the administration of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Brissette and Sullivan are charged with attempted extortion for allegedly using their offices to pressure the "Boston Calling" concert series into hiring union labor.

Witness Derek Cunningham, a location scout for "Top Chef", testified that he had been in communication with Brissette about the simmering labor dispute and that Brissette had told him at one point not to hand over permits for "Top Chef".

Published Earlier: 3 Things To Watch For 

Today, a jury will hear closing arguments in the case against four members of the Boston-based Teamsters Local 25 union charged with conspiracy to extort the reality TV show "Top Chef".

The case, which has proceeded over nearly two weeks in federal court, has featured extensive testimony describing Teamsters members approaching "Top Chef" staff as they began to set up for the filming of the show’s 2014 “Boston” season – and especially an incident in which Teamsters arrived at a filming location in Milton and disrupted production.

According to more than a half-dozen witnesses for the prosecution, Teamsters on the scene assailed the crew with vulgar, homophobic, and racist language, as well as threats of violence.

One witness for the prosecution, a "Top Chef" production assistant, described having an encounter with two teamsters while removing identifying placards from "Top Chef" vehicles, only to find the tires of those vehicles slashed shortly thereafter.

But the defendants are not charged with harassment or disturbing the peace – they’re charged with conspiracy to commit extortion, and it is on these charges that the case will hinge.

Here are a few points to follow as both the prosecution and defense make their closing arguments today:

Racketeering or lawful (if ugly) protest?

Lawyers for the defendants have not, by and large, contested the idea that members of the Teamsters Union who showed up to picket the Top Chef filming location were aggressive or that they used vulgar and offensive language.

But they have argued that the Teamsters had a constitutional right to picket the show for not hiring union labor and to express their free speech rights.

“Conspiracy” Means a Plot – Not a Reaction

The defendants are charged with ‘conspiracy’ to extort the Top Chef crew. That would seem to mean a jury would have to find that the defendants’ actions were more than an angry reaction to the show’s not hiring union members. Instead, the defendants must be shown to have been intentionally coordinating to use threats and intimidation (even, as the government alleges, physical violence) to extract a wanted outcome: in this case, jobs.

Which Teamster?

There is some reason to believe this case will hinge less on the more nuanced questions around the line between lawful labor actions and conspiracy to extort than a much simpler question: Whether the jury will find that the four men in the courtroom have been sufficiently identified by witnesses as participants in the alleged crime.

There are four defendants – but several witnesses described between 6 and 12 teamsters on the scene. And there has been precious little testimony connecting the alleged criminal acts to the Teamsters in the courtroom.

One defendant, John Fidler, has been positively identified by witnesses; but most defendants have not, and it’s possible that this case will turn less on the line between lawful protest and a crime than the simple lack of evidence tying individual defendants to the crimes alleged.

 

 


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