California Attorney General’s Office to investigate sexual assault accusations against Windsor Mayor Foppoli
Citing a conflict of interest in her office, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch has recused her prosecutors from investigating potential criminal charges against Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli, who has been accused of sexual assault by six women, and turned the case over to the state Attorney General’s Office.
“I was advised this morning by that agency that they will immediately assume the responsibilities of reviewing these incidents, and if appropriate, charging and prosecuting any relevant violations of the law,” Ravitch said in a statement Monday afternoon.
On Sunday, Ravitch asked the state agency to step in after allegations by a prosecutor on her own team against Foppoli surfaced over the weekend, creating a conflict of interest in the investigation her office started, Ravitch said.
On Saturday, Esther Lemus, a deputy district attorney and a member of the Windsor Town Council, became the sixth woman to publicly accuse Foppoli of sexual assault.
Lemus leveled the accusations after Foppoli accused her of pressuring him “into an intimate experience that I did not want by someone more influential and with power over me,” according to a statement issued by Foppoli earlier Saturday.
He went on to say Lemus also threatened to expose a 2017 letter sent to then-Windsor Mayor Deb Fudge, in which a woman who had rented the guesthouse at Foppoli’s Christopher Creek winery in 2013 alleged Foppoli invited himself to dinner and later tried to remove guests’ bathing suits and underwear in a hot tub.
Lemus, who has denied Foppoli’s allegations, accused Foppoli of slipping her drugs in alcoholic beverages to facilitate sex without her consent, leading to sexual assaults against her in February and August of 2020.
Five other women also have accused Foppoli of sexual assault, four of which detailed their accusations to the San Francisco Chronicle in a story published on Thursday. A fifth woman, a former girlfriend of Foppoli’s, told the Chronicle in a story published Saturday that he had handcuffed her to a bed without her permission in 2002 and sexually abused her.
In a statement emailed to The Press Democrat on Saturday, Foppoli, 38, denied all of the accusations.
“I am far from a person without faults, but I am not a rapist nor have I ever pressured any female to engage in sexual conduct with me,’’ he said in the statement.
In light of the first Chronicle story, Ravitch said last week her office would investigate the allegations against Foppoli, in tandem with Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, which also opened an investigation Thursday.
“At that point, we were not the primary investigating agency, and so our level of involvement in any kind of investigation was no more than referring any information we had to the sheriff’s department,” Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said Monday.
Upon learning Sunday of sexual assault allegations Foppoli made against prosecutor Lemus, Ravitch immediately called state prosecutors and asked them to intervene, Staebell said.
An investigation in which a District Attorney’s Office employee could potentially be called as a witness in a trial posed a clear conflict of interest, Staebell said.
Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick’s office on Monday declined to provide any updates on its investigation into the accusations against Foppoli, Essick’s spokeswoman Misti Wood said in an email.
Essick has decided his office has no conflict of interest and so continues its investigation, Wood said.
A team of detectives have been assigned to the case and will present their findings to state prosecutors, who will review the evidence and determine whether charges are merited, she said.
Bethany Kristovich, a Los Angeles attorney representing Foppoli, did not respond by Monday evening to a reporter’s request to interview Foppoli about the sexual assault allegations against him.
Lemus is fully cooperating with sheriff’s investigators, her Santa Rosa attorney Traci Carrillo said.
Lemus declined a follow-up interview on Monday with The Press Democrat because of the emotional trauma she and her family have experienced over the last few days, Carrillo said, speaking on her behalf.
Carrillo said Lemus did not report her sexual assault allegations to law enforcement immediately after they occurred in 2020 because of shame and gaps in her memory, the latter something Lemus thinks likely was the effect of Foppoli allegedly slipping a drug into her drinks.
“Sometimes the first thing you're doing is you're blaming yourself,” Carrillo said. “’Why did I just put myself in that situation? Did I drink too much? And then you start adding in this huge shame. She’s a (prosecutor), she's a council person. She has a high-profile position in the community.”
You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or email@example.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.