On Tuesday, a federal jury acquitted all four members of the Boston Teamsters Local 25 union of charges of attempted extortion.

The verdict came on the fourth day of deliberation – and after five days of listening to prosecution witnesses who testified that the defendants arrived at a "Top Chef" filming location in Milton and assailed the crew with vulgar, racist, and homophobic language, intimidation, and threats.

One witness said that shortly after being confronted by two of the teamsters, he found the tires of "Top Chef" vehicles had been slashed.

But that testimony was not enough to convince the 12-person jury that the government had proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

We don’t know yet what discussions took place among jury members (though we have one or two clues – see below). But there are some likely reasons the case broke the way it did, and they point not only to potential flaws in the case brought by the government – but also, potentially, to a pattern of failed corruption cases brought by United States attorneys in recent years.

It may be that jurors reached the same conclusion as Boston attorney Harvey Silverglate who, writing for WGBH News in 2016, suggested that prosecutors were overreaching in charging extortion and engaged in what Silverglate called: "The recharacterization of local politics as hotbeds of federal fraud."

1. Being a bully isn’t a felony.

Witnesses for the prosecution described Teamsters, often including the defendants specifically, using offensive taunts, threats, and aggressive behavior toward "Top Chef" crew members.

But, as lawyers for the defense pointed out, the men hadn’t been charged with harassment, or disturbing the peace, or threats, or physical intimidation.

Those acts can be crimes, but are usually prosecuted under state laws by county district attorneys – and generally carry far less severe penalties than the felony extortion charges filed against the four Teamsters.

The indictment of the four Teamsters described them using “physical violence.” But while there was testimony of “chest bumping” and Teamsters at one point attempting to push their way through the doors of the Steel and Rye Restaurant in Milton - though it was not clear whether any or all of the defendants themselves were present. In any case, witnesses did not describe acts of overt violence.

Most of the intimidation described took the form of words: ugly, hurtful, and even hateful words -- but words nonetheless.

2. Advocating for union labor isn’t extortion.

Lawyers for the defendants, in contrast to the prosecution, presented no witnesses.

The implied message, elaborated in closing remarks, was clear: the burden of proof was on the prosecution and, the defense maintained, prosecutors had failed to prove their case.

The picketing of film productions, construction projects, or any other endeavor for not hiring union labor is by itself legal and protected under free speech rights and labor laws.

Those laws do not permit violence or other criminal behavior; but neither do individual acts of violent behavior, harassment, or threats by themselves constitute extortion or conspiracy. 

In other words, impropriety in advocating a position generally, or advocating for union labor specifically, does not necessarily prove criminal intent. 

And it’s here that there could be implications for the upcoming trial of Boston City Hall aides Kenneth Brissette and Timothy Sullivan, separately charged with extortion for allegedly pressuring a concert promoter to hire union labor.

Brissette and Sullivan are accused of using their positions to extort on behalf of unions. Yet there is no particular law prohibiting city employees, or the city itself, from encouraging or even requiring union participation in city-funded or city-sponsored events.

3. Conspiracy charges require … well, a conspiracy.

Despite evidence of intimidating behavior by the defendants, there was very little evidence offered showing the defendants actively engaging in any other aspects of the “conspiracy” alleged by prosecutors.

Much of the evidence that was offered indicating attempts to convince "Top Chef" to hire union members didn’t involve the defendants themselves, and instead involved parties not on trial.

That included testimony by one witness who said that Boston tourism director Brissette at one point tried to keep "Top Chef" from receiving permits to film in Boston, as well as testimony that Local 25 president Sean O'Brien tried to negotiate with "Top Chef" on behalf of his members. 

But those men weren't on trial; and testimony didn't directly connect those negotiations to the defendants or their behavior. 

There was little direct evidence that any parties were acting on a coordinated plan to force "Top Chef" to hire union members. (Indeed, one witness for the prosecution testified to numerous phone calls between the defendants around key timeline events; but defense lawyers pointed out that the defendants had numerous innocuous reasons to be in communication with each other).

On the contrary, testimony of Teamster misbehavior seemed noticeably limited to a few discreet events, especially the notorious day Teamsters disrupted the Milton filming location.

But if their actions were meant to precipitate further conversation, there was no testimony to show that.