Probe clears City Hall in alleged ‘Top Chef’ extortion attempt

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BOSTON – A probe of a city official’s calls to a Boston hotel and restaurant to warn of impending Teamsters picketing in June 2014 found no evidence of collusion with the union to influence either establishment, and concluded the official acted on his own.

The Omni Parker House hotel downtown and Menton restaurant in the Fort Point area both called off planned shoots of “Top Chef” episodes after receiving the calls, and the out-of-town production company moved the work to a restaurant in Milton. There, federal prosecutors have alleged, members of Charlestown-based Teamsters Local 25 intimidated the crew and members of the cast in an effort to force the company to give union members no-work “jobs.”

In a Sept. 29 indictment of several Teamsters, one paragraph mentioned the city official’s calls, without further characterizing them. Walsh, a former leader of a labor council that included Local 25, subsequently ordered an investigation of the calls and hired a former federal prosecutor, Brian T. Kelly, to conduct the probe.

“Our investigation uncovered no evidence indicating that any city employee colluded or conspired with members of Teamsters Local 25 to intimidate or extort “Top Chef,” Kelly said in a report detailing his investigation. The report is dated Sunday, Dec. 27.

“The evidence revealed that the telephone calls referred to in paragraph 7 of the indictment were placed by Kenneth Brissette, the city’s director of tourism, sports and entertainment, in an effort to notify personal acquaintances of a developing situation that could affect their businesses,” Kelly said. “The recipients of those phone calls both denied that Brissette threatened them in any way, and both also denied that Brissette ever requested that they cancel the scheduled Top Chef filmings.”

Brissette acted on his own and not under direction of anyone at City Hall, Kelly said. He also said there was no evidence to indicate that the city took steps to revoke production permits for the Bravo cable network reality show.

Walsh expressed confidence in Kelly’s findings, which reportedly cost the city about $60,000. Kelly is a lawyer with the Nixon Peabody firm in Boston.

“This report answers many of the questions that had been raised and concludes that no city employee was involved in any of the illegal activities alleged in the federal indictment,” Walsh said in a statement Monday. “Brian Kelly was given unlimited access to City Hall and I am very confident in the results of his review.”

The mayor, a Democrat and former state representative, won the city’s top job in 2913 with solid union support, including $34,475 in campaign contributions from labor, according to Project Vote Smart.