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Jurors Begin Deliberating In Top Chef Extortion Trial

BOSTON (CBS) -- Five different attorneys made closing arguments Thursday in the trial of four Teamsters accused of harassing and intimidating the cast and crew of Top Chef because the production didn't hire union workers.

The men are accused of making violent, racist, homophobic, and misogynistic threats to the production members and chest bumping and physically blocking them while the TV show filmed at Steel & Rye in Milton in 2014.

Following closing arguments, jurors received the case and deliberated for about two hours without reaching a verdict Thursday.

top chef trial boston extortion teamsters
A still from evidence video shown in court shows one of the Teamsters accused of harassing and intimidating the Top Chef cast and crew in 2014. (WBZ-TV)

Video evidence of the Teamsters' actions was shown in court during the trial.

Defense attorneys reminded jurors that the men weren't on trial for vandalism or for being rude, though--they stand accused of extortion, and they claim their clients were simply picketing and not extorting the production.

Prosecutors said Teamsters promised to disrupt filming if the production company didn't hire union workers, and pressured them to create jobs for the Teamsters that the company had no need for.

"This, members of the jury, was not a picket, no matter how many times defense attorneys use that word," said one prosecutor.

The defense claimed Thursday that the show at one point offered the union a "bribe" to leave the cast and crew alone.

The defense said the men were looking for jobs for their fellow union workers, not for themselves.

"What's really going on is reality television doesn't want to be unionized," said one defense attorney.

During closings, one prosecutor said the Teamsters were "threatening to kill people ... telling the host of the show they're gonna bash her pretty little face in."

Padma Lakshmi, the host of the show, testified on Monday that, as she approached the show's set in a van, one of the Teamsters--later identified as John Fidler--leaned into the window and made that threat.

"I felt he was bullying me," Lakshmi said on the stand. "I felt he was saying, 'I might hit you.' … I could feel my heartbeat."

The defense, however, claimed in their closing that she exaggerated that account because she simply felt "inconvenienced" by the Teamsters.

The defense rested Tuesday without calling any witnesses to the stand.

Jurors began deliberating at about 2:30 p.m. on Thursday and left for the day several hours later.

Deliberations will resume Friday morning.

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