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One of the jurors who acquitted four local Teamsters charged with attempting to extort the TV show "Top Chef" says federal prosecutors never came close to proving their case.
Last week's verdicts came in stunning contrast to iPhone videos and witness testimony that described thuggish behavior, vile words and physical threats by the Teamsters against the non-union crew and the star of "Top Chef" while the reality show was filming near Boston in 2014.
We caught juror Brandon Altieri on his way back to the University of Scranton, after what he called an interesting finish to summer vacation.
About the picket line conduct of the four defendants, the college student was clear.
"They were mean, but it's not a crime to be mean. We looked beyond that," he said of the jury.
The jury — three men and nine women — had been selected after close screening of prospective jurors.
"One of the questions was, could we look past that language and conduct? And I think most people were able to do that pretty well," Altieri said.
Jeffrey Cohen, a professor at Boston College Law School, spent eight years prosecuting public corruption as an assistant U.S. attorney in Boston.
"The way I interpret that," Cohen said of the jury's decision, " 'We saw them as jerks, but not as criminals.' "
What the prosecution needed to prove was that the Teamsters had a criminal intent and not just an intent to be jerks.
"In order to commit extortion you would have to act knowingly and willfully," Cohen explained.
Altieri, the juror, says that early on in their deliberations, most of the jurors coalesced. "We really didn't see proof that they were actually knowledgeable that they were committing a crime," he said.
The key question for the jury, Altieri says, was framed by the judge's instructions: Were the teamsters trying to get "Top Chef" to hire and pay them for jobs that were not needed and not wanted, or were the Teamsters seeking jobs in which they would replace non-union workers?
Here's how defense attorney Carmine Lepore summed it up after the verdicts:
"The judge narrowed the issues to whether or not the government had to prove or they could prove whether or not they were seeking additional services, which would be unlawful, or replacement services, which would not be unlawful."
The burden of proof is always on the government, and Altieri says he and his fellow jurors got no proof.
"It really came down to the fact there was no proof either way," Altieri said. "That we couldn't really get by."
After one hold out finally came around, the jurors cast a total of 96 votes for not guilty, a resounding defeat for the government.
"Once you decide that the government did not sufficiently prove to you that these were illegitimate labor objectives, then all the verdict flows from that," Cohen, the former prosecutor, said.
When asked if he thought the prosecution was government overreach, Altieri said he thought so.
"Looking back at it, to me at least, it was never actually close to being proven that they were guilty," he said.
Acting U.S. Attorney William Weinreb complains about the knee-jerk reaction of calling the losing prosecution "overreach."
"The jury in the end disagreed with us and we respect their verdict, but we will continue to root out this kind of behavior whenever we become aware of it," Weinreb said.
This segment aired on August 22, 2017.
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