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Teamsters members accused of 'Top Chef' extortion plot face trial

By Nate Raymond

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON, August 1 (Reuters) - Four members of a local Teamsters union are set to face trial on federal charges that they tried to extort jobs from a non-union production company filming the reality television show "Top Chef" around the Boston area in 2014.

Opening statements are expected on Tuesday in Boston federal court in the case of the four Teamsters Local 25 members who prosecutors said resorted to thug tactics including threatening celebrity host Padma Lakshmi to try to land jobs.

The men, John Fidler, Daniel Redmond, Robert Cafarelli and Michael Ross, have all pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors said that Redmond on June 5, 2014 approached the show's crew while it was filming at a hotel, demanded Local 25 members be hired as drivers and told one producer to call Mark Harrington, the union's president's "right hand man."

Harrington and another union official warned they would picket filming locations if its members were not hired, prosecutors said.

A producer on the program got a voicemail from the union's president five days later saying it was sending people to picket a restaurant in the suburb of Milton where filming was scheduled, prompting the company to hire a police detail, prosecutors said.

They said after Harrington, Redmond, Fidler, Cafarelli and Ross showed up, members of the group chest-bumped crew members, yelled homophobic and racial slurs at them and threatened violence.

Among the potential witnesses at trial is Lakshmi, who prosecutors said was terrified after Fidler stuck his arm into a van she arrived in and said, "I'll smash your pretty little face."

Harrington was sentenced in December to six months in prison after pleading guilty to one count of attempted extortion.

The case was linked to Boston City Hall after prosecutors said a member of Mayor Martin Walsh's administration - Kenneth Brissette, the city's head of tourism - contacted other filming locations to say the union planned to picket them.

Brissette has also been charged by prosecutors with trying to withhold city permits for a music festival using non-union workers. He has pleaded not guilty.

Walsh, a Democrat, is a former construction worker who led the city's Building and Construction Trades Council union before being elected mayor in 2013. He has said repeatedly he expects members of his administration to obey the law.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Bernard Orr)