NEW YORK – Financier Jeffrey Chodorow (search) peppered TV chef Rocco DiSpirito's (search) meatball-making mamma with so many insults about her son that he made her cry, the cook's former manager says.
Lon Rosen told the sob story in a videotaped deposition that was played yesterday in Manhattan Supreme Court, where DiSpirito is trying to wrest control of his reality show restaurant back from bistro big Chodorow.
DiSpirito was banned from Rocco's 22nd St. — site of the hit NBC show "The Restaurant" (search) — last month, when Chodorow and his partners in China Grill Management got a court order barring him from the premises.
DiSpirito went before Justice Ira Gammerman yesterday in a bid to get the restraining order lifted and for a court order appointing a neutral receiver to take charge of the restaurant until her can settle his differences with Chodorow. Chodorow's lawyers are asking the judge for permission to sell the restaurant and end their stormy partnership with DiSpirito.
In his testimony, Rosen, who now works for the Los Angeles Dodgers, said he thinks Chodorow set DiSpirito up "to fail." He said when DiSpirito and Chodorow first spoke about joining forces to open up the reality show restaurant, "Jeffrey was very excited" and even talked about opening a chain of restaurants.
After the cameras started rolling, however, it became obvious that Chodorow "had planned all along to throw [DiSpirito] to the wolves," Rosen said. Asked if he treated the celebrity chef like a partner, Rosen said, "I can't even say he treated him like a human being. He treated Rocco very poorly."
He also said "terrible things about him to his mother," 79-year-old Nicolina, who another witness testified works 14 hours a day in the restaurant, making hundreds of its signature meatballs.
Rosen said "she's a sweet woman" whom Chodorow would "goad" with insults about her boy. "She'd break down crying that Jeffrey was saying terrible things about her son," he said.
Rosen said he thought Chodorow orchestrated DiSpirito's troubles because he wanted to be the star. "He got himself on the television show, he got himself on Page Six . . . Jeffrey wanted it all," Rosen said.
Chodorow was stewing about the charges that he was mean to mamma after court. "That's a complete fabrication. I found that highly offensive," he said, adding he's always been "very respectful" to the mom and even pays for her apartment above the restaurant "out of my own pocket."
"If she cried, it was only because of the situation," he said.
He also scoffed at Rosen's other charges, saying "I didn't want to be on the show" and that he'd hoped the restaurant would be a success.
In court, he said he and his partners have lost almost $5 million on the restaurant to the date, even though it's turned a profit for the past three months.
He also denied that DiSpirito was a 50 percent owner of the eatery, even Chodorow's own lawyer, Laurence Kaiser, seemed to acknowledge that he is.
Still, Kaiser said that "50 percent ownership has no economic value" because DiSpirito wouldn't get any cash from the restaurant until Chodorow and his partners get their $4.7 million back.
DiSpirito's lawyer, Steven Hayes, told Gammerman his client "is an owner and shouldn't be excluded from the restaurant."
The hearing is scheduled to conclude this morning, with Chodorow finishing his testimony and DiSpirito taking the stand. The chef — whose family turned out in force for the court date — refused comment afterward.
Chodorow and his partners sued the 36-year-old — one of People Magazine's "Sexiest Men Alive" (search) in 2002 — earlier this year because they charged he was running Rocco's 22nd St. into the ground.
DiSpirito then filed a $6 million countersuit, charging Chodorow and CGM cooked its books to make the restaurant look like it's doing worse business than it is so they won't have to pay DiSpirito anything.