Behind the bar at Christopher Creek Winery, a few miles north of downtown Windsor, is a picture of the thousand-year-old castle owned by the Foppoli family.
Castello Foppoli lords over the town of Mazzo de Valtellini, 75 miles northeast of Milan in northern Italy. When the castle went up for sale five or so years ago, Dominic Foppoli explained last year to a visitor to his winery, “I made a crazy lowball offer.”
This was 13 months ago, before the mayor of Windsor had pulled up the figurative drawbridge on his life and gone into seclusion. Once a rising star in the firmament of North Bay politics, Foppoli’s career in government at any level is now on life support.
The Windsor native stands publicly accused of sexual assault and abuse by seven women, whose accusations span from 2003 to 2020. Those allegations, and Foppoli’s defiance in the face of them — proclaiming his innocence, refusing to resign, describing himself as the true victim — have made national headlines, and convulsed this leafy enclave of 27,000.
The revelations left Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore reeling and smarting. He’d worked closely with Foppoli, and, like the rest of his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors — with the exception of Chris Coursey, who was elected in March 2020 and took his seat on the board in January — endorsed him for Windsor mayor last year.
“There are a lot of people in the community who feel they were made fools of,” said Gore, whose district includes Windsor. “They’re hurt, shamed — but that’s nothing compared to what the true victims are feeling.”
While he stopped short of calling Foppoli a friend, Gore allowed that he’d spent plenty of time with him “on the circuit” — local fundraisers, ribbon cuttings — and even socially. It’s clear now, he said, that he “didn’t really know him” at all.
The portrait of Foppoli painted by his accusers is monstrous: He stands accused of, among other assaults, twice raping his 18-year-old girlfriend in early 2004, after she told him she was waiting until marriage to have sex. Another woman said he forced her to engage in oral copulation when she was nearly unconscious, too intoxicated to give consent.
Another victim recalled how, during a three-year relationship with him, Foppoli handcuffed her wrists and ankles to a bed without her consent, then sexually abused her. Esther Lemus, a county prosecutor and fellow Windsor Town Council member, accused him of slipping drugs into her alcoholic drinks to facilitate sex without her consent on two separate occasions last year.
Lemus is a prosecutor for Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch. Citing a conflict of interest, Ravitch announced on April 12 she was handing off the investigation of Foppoli to the California Attorney General’s Office, which will work with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff’s Sgt. Juan Valencia said “the investigation is ongoing,” and that there was “no additional information at this time.”
Whether or not Foppoli is charged or convicted, many minds in the community seem already made up. The number of women stepping forward, and the highly detailed, extensively corroborated nature of their accounts, has summoned a whirlwind of furious, overwhelming opposition to him.
Even as he ascended the rungs of local politics and business, the 38-year-old bachelor raised alarms. Attorney and Healdsburg City Councilmember Ariel Kelley for the past five years heard “rumors of impropriety” concerning Foppoli — reports that “put me on guard to know that he should not be trusted, that I should never drink with him privately.”
When Kelley learned that a 20-something acquaintance of hers was renting a room in Foppoli’s Windsor home, “I sat her down and shared my concern. We had a very frank conversation.”
The need for such discussions was a clue that Foppoli was more than just an ambitious young mayor and scion of a local winemaking family. If guilty of the heinous acts of which he stands accused, he has also been a predator, hiding in plain sight.
Interviews with 17 people, ranging from Foppoli’s high school classmates and old political rivals to fellow Sonoma County politicians and a 25-year-old woman who rented a room in his house, tell the story of an ambitious and shape-shifting politician unencumbered by ideology. Also coming into focus was the picture of a reckless, selfish boy-man in love with the partying, the trappings of political power and, most of all, himself.