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Mario Batali says accuser's photos will prove innocence in groping case

Batali's lawyers want the accuser's cellphone data to be preserved.
Image: Mario Batali
Mario Batali arrives in Boston Municipal Court on May 24, 2019.David L. Ryan / Boston Globe via Getty Images

Mario Batali on Friday requested that photos and text messages on a cellphone belonging to a woman accusing him of groping and forcibly kissing her be preserved because his lawyers say those could help prove his innocence.

Batali, 58, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of indecent assault and battery for allegedly touching Natali Tene's breast, buttocks and groin before holding her face as he kissed her on the mouth and her face at a Boston bar in 2017. Tene has been identified by her lawyer, Eric M. Baum, who is representing her in a separate civil case against the disgraced celebrity chef.

Tene said she was with a friend at the since-closed Towne Stove and Spirits on Boylston Street when she noticed the famous chef and took a selfie with him over her shoulder, according to an incident report, which added Batali noticed it and called her over, offering to take an up-close selfie with her.

When she got close enough to take the picture, Batali first put his arm around her and grabbed her breast, then grabbed her buttocks and pulled her in closer, the incident report said. He then proceeded to touch Tene's groin over her clothing and "held her face" as he kissed her on the cheek and the mouth.

"The victim realized Batali was intoxicated by the smell and half closed eyes," the incident report said.

But Batali's lawyers said in court documents filed in Boston Municipal Court that even though Tene alleges the groping happened while the pictures were being taken, 11 photos and five live photos on her phone do not show any "indecent touching."

They also said that while Tene told detectives she texted two friends on the night of the incident, she didn't mention the alleged assault in those texts. Instead, she sent pictures of herself with Batali, and made fun of his appearance. Batali's team believes following text messages will also reveal that Tene never told her friends about the incident.

Batali and his lawyers requested that Tene's cellphone cloud-based data, emails and social media profiles be preserved "to avoid the possible or inadvertent destruction, deletion or manipulation of highly relevant and exculpatory information in this case."

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Baum, who is representing Tene in her civil case, countered that the photos and texts "speak for themselves and show Mario Batali inappropriately and forcefully touching her."

Baum told NBC News on Friday that Batali is refusing to testify in the civil case in an attempt to invoke the Fifth Amendment and avoid anything potentially self-incriminating in the midst of the criminal case.

In the incident report, Tene said that after Batali groped her, he invited her to join him at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, but she declined. The separate civil suit Tene has filed says Batali's alleged actions were "dehumanizing" and "humiliating."

Tene was one of several alleged victims of Batali who came forward after four other women told Eater New York that Batali groped them and made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature. His alleged behavior spanned more than two decades.

The chef, who was a host on ABC's "The Chew," and invested in more than a dozen restaurants, said he would step away from the "day-to-day operations of my businesses," and was subsequently fired from "The Chew," which was later canceled.

The Food Network also canceled plans to relaunch "Molto Mario," which first aired in 1996 and launched Batali to celebrity status. And in March, Batali was bought out of his restaurant group.

The New York Police Department opened a criminal investigation into Batali in 2018 but closed it early this year due to lack of evidence, NBC New York reported.