Union members face extortion charges, accused of harassing 'Top Chef' crew

Story highlights

  • Four Teamsters members could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on extortion charges
  • An indictment alleges they uttered racial slurs, bumped crew members and issued threats
  • The local union branch declines comment on the allegations

(CNN)Four members of a Boston labor union face extortion-related charges, accused of harassing "Top Chef" reality show staff during filming last year.

The union members allegedly harassed nonunion production staff in June 2014 in an attempt to strong-arm the Bravo show into using union workers instead, according to the indictment filed in federal court. The four were arrested Wednesday, the FBI said in a news release.
The men were members of the Local 25 branch of the Teamsters union, a labor organization that represents over 11,000 employees in the transportation and movie industries, the indictment says.
    They were indicted on conspiracy to extort and attempted extortion to obtain no-work jobs for fellow Teamsters, according to the FBI. If convicted, the union members could get up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.
    An official at the Teamsters branch did not have a comment on the indictment.
    Joseph Bonavolonta, acting special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, said in a statement that "while unions have the right to advocate on behalf of their members, they do not have the right to use violence and intimidate."
    "The strong-arm tactics the FBI has seen in this case are egregious, and our investigation is far from over," Bonavolonta said. "Today's arrests should send a message to those who think they can get away with manipulating the system that they better think twice."

    Indictment points to bumps, threats and slurs

    The indictment alleges that the union branch's secretary-treasurer warned "Top Chef" producers that if a deal was not made, union members would follow the filming staff and picket, according to the indictment.
    While the show was filming at one restaurant in Milton, Massachusetts, several defendants "entered the production area and began walking in lockstep toward the doors of the restaurant where they chest-bumped and stomach-bumped crew members in an attempt to forcibly enter the restaurant," the indictment said.
    The indictment alleges that the defendants yelled racial and homophobic slurs at the crew throughout the morning and used physical violence, along with threats, trying to prevent people from entering the set.
    The defendants were also seen standing near cars belonging to crew members, "nine of which were later found to have had their tires slashed," the indictment says.
    A source close to the incident confirmed that "Top Chef" was the reality show.
    "The indictment alleges that a group of rogue Teamsters employed old school thug tactics to get no-work jobs from an out of town production company," U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said Wednesday in a statement, adding that the conduct was "not union organizing, but criminal extortion."
    The four men were released on bail following their court appearance Wednesday, according to CNN affiliate WCVB, which had a reporter in court.