A former MasterChef contestant who plied a teenage girl with alcohol before grabbing her on a hotel bed has avoided jail, and instead been ordered to make a donation to charity and apologise to the girl.
In the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today, Ben Ungermann admitted to the lesser charge of common law assault against the 16-year-old girl after prosecutors dropped three sex assault charges.
The chef was placed on the court’s diversion program, which allows low-level offenders to avoid a criminal record.
No finding of guilt was made against him.
The girl, who cannot be named because she is a child, was denied an opportunity to make a statement to the court because her comments were inconsistent with the facts that were part of the plea deal.
Magistrate Mia Stylianou ordered Mr Ungermann to make a $1,000 donation to the White Ribbon Foundation, get counselling and write a letter of apology.
She told the court that the teenager had told police that the outcome of the proceedings was “acceptable”.
“I have determined to give you the opportunity of diversion which means that there will be no recording of a conviction and no finding of guilt, but there is an admission of responsibility and acceptance of the charge before the court,” the magistrate said.
“I accept everything that’s been put on your behalf, the impact that these proceedings have had on you, the extra-curial punishment, the loss to your reputation and everything that has followed,” she said.
Outside court, his friend and fellow MasterChef contestant, Ben Bullock, who is also a lawyer, claimed victory.
“Benny’s been dealing with these charges now for more than 12 months. So we welcome the withdrawal of the sexual assault charges, which have been denied the whole time,” Mr Bullock said.
“We also welcome the opportunity for Benny to clear his name. It’s really just about him going forward now,” he said.
In February last year, the court heard that Mr Ungermann had dinner with the girl and plied her with alcohol, telling her that he “was going to get shitfaced”.
The pair then returned to a hotel where he now admits to common law assault.
Victoria Police prosecutor Sergeant Peter Murphy told the court that the incident started when Mr Ungermann tried to encourage the girl to hug him “without success”.
“The accused has then placed his hand under her armpit and across her right breast, over her clothing, and pulled her down onto his chest. His hand remained for approximately two seconds,” the sergeant said.
“[She] has pulled away from the accused … left the bedroom in a visibly distressed state.”
The father-of-three was arrested about two weeks later at a hotel where he was staying with the other MasterChef contestants.
Once he was charged, he was given an hour the following day to pack his things and leave.
The court heard police supported plans to put the 37-year-old on a diversion program.
His barrister, Abbie Roodenburg, told the court that Mr Ungermann was willing to accept responsibility for the charge.
“Mr Ungermann”s position has always been that he didn’t have any intention, there was no deliberate act,” she said.
But she took aim at the way her client was treated by police during his arrest.
“He was in the middle of filming the MasterChef show, and staying at the hotel room … and two plain-clothes detectives and two police in tactical gear arrived at his door,” she said.
“It was an incredibly shocking experience for him. He recalls being told that he was under arrest for sexual assault but certainly not who it was in relation to.”
The court heard Ungermann lost his sponsorship deals, had a heart attack and had been unable to work since being charged.
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