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Lawyers for Esther Lemus claim operative for Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli is seeking to leak incriminating sex video

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you can contact:

Family Justice Center of Sonoma County: 707-565-8255

Verity: 707-545-7273

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673 or online.rainn.org

Attorneys for Windsor Town Councilwoman Esther Lemus sent a letter last week to a criminal lawyer for Mayor Dominic Foppoli demanding that any potentially compromising video or videos of Lemus that might be in his possession not be distributed in any form.

If such material does exist, according to a copy of the emailed letter given to The Press Democrat on Sunday, the footage was recorded without her consent and could be evidence of sexual crimes against her by Foppoli or others.

Lemus, a Sonoma County prosecutor, last month became the sixth of seven women to publicly accuse Foppoli of sexual assault, widening the scope of a scandal that continues to engulf Sonoma County’s fourth-largest city. Sexual assault and rape allegations against Foppoli were first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle on April 8.

Lemus last month told The Press Democrat that she suspects Foppoli slipped drugs into her alcoholic drinks to facilitate sex without her consent, leading to sexual assaults in February and August 2020. She said the second assault took place at Foppoli’s winery and involved a friend of his. Foppoli told her the encounter was recorded on a tasting room video camera, and Lemus understood he intended to use that to pressure her not to disclose the earlier incident, Lemus said. Lemus took her accusations to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office after the Chronicle published its initial story.

Foppoli has repeatedly denied Lemus’ accusations and those brought by the other women. Also, Foppoli last month publicly accused Lemus of pressuring him into an “intimate experience” and threatened his political career if he told anyone of their “interaction.” Lemus called his allegation absurd given that Foppoli was mayor.

The Santa Rosa-based law firm representing Lemus emailed the cease-and-desist letter Friday night to Foppoli’s Santa Rosa lawyer, Orchid Vaghti. The letter also calls for Foppoli to preserve any videos and other potential evidence related to sexual assault allegations that Lemus has raised against Foppoli.

Lemus’ attorneys specified they do not know whether any such video or videos actually exist.

“The concern is that if they do exist, they are evidence of a crime and should be turned over to law enforcement and not disseminated to further traumatize the victim,” Traci Carrillo, her lead attorney, said.

Her attorneys sent the letter to Foppoli’s lawyer after they said they were contacted last week by at least one Bay Area media outlet that said an “operative” for Foppoli had been “shopping around to leak” to the press a compromising video or videos of Lemus. Carrillo also heard from a few “people who run in political circles” that Foppoli had hired a representative with political ties to bring the videos to the media, she said.

In press statement sent out Sunday, Carrillo named Robert Stryk as the operative. Stryk is a Washington, D.C.-based political operative with ties to Northern California, the wine industry and the administration of former President Donald Trump, according to a range of national media reports. He has lobbied for countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Venezuela and El Salvador, according to news reports.

“The fact that Mayor Foppoli, through this political operative, is threatening to ’leak’ these videos publicly is offensive and appalling,” Carrillo said in the statement, “and the release of such content is also a crime.”

Foppoli, in a text on Sunday, confirmed he had seen the cease-and-desist email, but declined to comment on it or whether any such video or videos exist. On Monday, Foppoli did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment on his relationship with Stryk.

Reached by phone Monday and provided a copy of the law firm’s press statement, Stryk refused to address the statement. The only response he would provide on the record was a disparaging remark about Lemus, he said. Stryk described Foppoli as a close friend akin to family. He said he was not being paid by Foppoli.

Stryk also represents Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, pro bono, in a bid for a presidential pardon, according to a New York Times report from earlier this year.

Stryk has previously contacted Press Democrat journalists to advocate on Foppoli’s behalf in regards to the sexual assault allegations against the mayor.

On Monday afternoon, Stryk appeared as the invited guest on KSRO’s afternoon talk show, The Drive. There, he unleashed a stream insults and allegations against Lemus and her attorney, prompting Steve Jaxon, the KSRO host, to intervene, without success.

“Mayor Foppoli will never resign,” Stryk said on the show. “He did nothing wrong.”

Carrillo did not respond Monday afternoon to a request for comment on Stryk’s radio appearance.

Vaghti, Foppoli’s defense lawyer, said Sunday she represents Foppoli in potential criminal matters and therefore would not comment on civil issues such as the cease and desist letter. Foppoli’s civil attorney, Los Angeles-based Bethany Kristovich, did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday or Monday.

Sonoma County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Juan Valencia declined to comment about any purported video or videos or say whether such material is part of the sheriff’s ongoing investigation into the accusations against Foppoli.

The California Attorney General’s Office has taken over the potential prosecution of the case, after Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch recused her own office, because Lemus works as a deputy district attorney.

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian. You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been revised to note that lobbyist Robert Stryk has represented El Salvador as a client, according to press reports. Ecuador was mistakenly listed as a client in a previous version.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you can contact:

Family Justice Center of Sonoma County: 707-565-8255

Verity: 707-545-7273

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673 or online.rainn.org

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