Prosecutors: ‘Top Chef’ host Padma Lakshmi ‘paralyzed with fear’ by Teamsters

BOSTON (WHDH) - Opening statements got underway Tuesday in the federal trial in Boston of four Teamsters accused of intimidating the staff and crew of the “Top Chef” reality TV show.

Prosecutors allege that the Local 25 union members threatened to picket if the show’s producers did not hire union drivers. They also said union members threatened, extorted and harassed the crew of the show’s non-union production company.

The show’s former location manager, Derek Cunningham, told the court that he felt so threatened by the Teamsters that he quit the production and slept with one knife under his bed and another by his door.

“It was quite intimidating. I was afraid to deal with them. I started losing quite a bit of sleep,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham testified he had one confrontation with co-defendant Dan Redmond, who said Top Chef was being run by maggots who hired non-union truck drivers. Cunningham also said Redmond blamed him for working on a non-union show.

Top Chef, a Bravo program, shot a season worth of episodes in Boston in 2014.

Prosecutors said a violent confrontation came at the Steel and Rye restaurant in Milton after permitting was halted at locations planned in Boston.

The Local 25 union members allegedly shouted racial and homophobic slurs as trucks unloaded equipment for the shoot at the restaurant.

Prosecutors said the confrontation left Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi “paralyzed with fear.”

The show’s co-executive producer, Erica Ross, testified that a union member shouted “I’ll smash your pretty little face” as she arrived to shoot the episode.

“She was terrified and did not want to get out of the vehicle,” Ross said.

The government said the threats amounted to an extortion plot, but defense lawyers said it was not a crime. They said the union members were simply picketing lawfully.

The Teamsters have pleaded not guilty to the charges. In a plea agreement with prosecutors, a fifth Teamster pleaded guilty last year to attempted extortion and was sentenced to two years’ probation with six months of home confinement. Mark Harrington told a judge he was merely trying to get jobs for union members.

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