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North End restaurant worker charged with sexual attack on co-worker

A long-time employee at Massimino's Cucina Italiana on Endicott Street faces a charge of indecent assault and battery for an incident last September involving a woman co-worker.

The Boston Licensing Board decided today Paul D'Amore did nothing wrong by not calling police after the woman left the restaurant because he did not have enough proof that something really bad had happened on Sept. 10 - but said he should at least have sent the man home while he investigated, rather than letting him continue to work. And he should have called police right away, which he told the board at a hearing on Tuesday he would do in the future.

At the Tuesday hearing, BPD Sgt. Det. William Gallagher said a woman working at the restaurant walked into the East Boston police station several hours after the incident to report she had been sexually assaulted at the restaurant, that as she was trying to stack some chairs, a task she was having some trouble with because of her height, fellow worker Mario Mejia, 45, offered to help - and then came behind her and "inappropriately touched her."

She told him to stop, Gallagher continued, but he put both arms around her and up against the wall and "continued to hug her." When she tried to escape his grasp by crouching down, he grabbed her left breast with his right hand, Gallagher said, adding she screamed at him, and he replied "Why are you scared?"

Gallagher said she finally broke free and another employee, a manager, helped her to a safe place down the street to get away from the restaurant and Mejia.

After an investigation, police summonsed Mejia into Boston Municipal Court, where he was arraigned Oct. 11, court records show. A trial date has yet to be set.

D'Amore, who has owned Massimino's since 1989, said he was driving to work around 11 a.m., when the manager called to alert him about "a situation" between the two workers. He said when he arrived, he called the woman, who had worked for him for five or six years. He said he asked if she was OK and if she needed anything. He said she replied she was OK and needed time to think about what to do. He said he got a similar answer when he called her a couple of hours later and then a couple days later, but said he has not heard from her since and she never returned to work.

He said he talked to Mejia, who denied attacking the woman. He said Mejia told him he had been helping her stack chairs when he accidentally "bumped into her from behind."

At first, , D'Amore said, he did not know that the worker had gone to police, so he saw no reason to fire or discipline the man, whom he said had worked for him for nearly 32 years with no problems.

But now that he knows about the criminal case, he said Mejia continues to work for him, in part because he knows he has a young child, in part because the case is now in the legal system. "Once got in hands of law, I just didn't want to get involved," he said. "I just wanted the law to handle it."

D'Amore said he hired a company that specializes in sensitivity training, which he said set up an online program for restaurant employees, to ensure his workers know they should never touch other employees, or even get too close to them. And he said that in the future, as soon as he gets even a whiff of a problem, he would call police right away.

At a meeting today, licensing-board members agreed D'Amore could have handled the situation far better - in part by calling in police - but that they did not feel what he did warranted finding him in violation of a requirement to call police about trouble, because initially, he did not know this would turn into a criminal case and that he was dealing with a "he said/she said" situation.

"In my opinion, this was not handled with the seriousness it deserved," board Chairwoman Kathleen Joyce said. "I was bothered by the way this was handled."

She added that once D'Amore had gotten a better sense of what might have happened, well, "I understand the man has children and a family but he should have been dismissed."

"A woman should be able to work without getting assaulted and be able to go back to work without fear," board member Keeana Saxon said.

The board agreed to ask D'Amore to file paperwork for the sensitivity training as well as logs of which employees have taken it.

The board did issue a warning to Massimino's for a separate violation involving chairs and tables stacked against a basement fire exit - which detectives noticed when they went to the restaurant on Oct. 2 to issue a citation for the incident involving Mejia. D'Amore said that that was at the end of a slow Monday night when there were no customers and the staff was cleaning up for the night, but agreed it shouldn't have happened.

Innocent, etc.



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