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Napa vintner suspected of killing investor, then himself

NAPA - A bitter business dispute between a Napa Valley vintner and a former investor ended Monday in an outburst of violence that left both men dead.

The vintner, Robert Dahl, allegedly shot his former business investor in the head in a vineyard overlooking Highway 29, the main route through the famed wine region, according to several sources familiar with the investigation.

He then fled into the wooded hills between Napa and Sonoma valleys, turning the gun on himself as deputies closed in, sources said.

Dahl and the former investor, Santa Clara County resident Emad Tawfilis, had met earlier Monday morning at Dahl’s winery to discuss a $1.2 million loan dispute, said Kousha Berokim, a Los Angeles attorney who represented Dahl. Tawfilis’ investment firm sued Dahl, alleging the vintner had accepted several loans for a defunct company.

At the meeting, the two agreed to “work out their differences and a timetable so they can ultimately come to a deal,” said Berokim, who participated in the 11 a.m. meeting via a telephone conference call.

“I was not expecting or suspecting any violence,” Berokim said. “I don’t know what happened.”

Soon after the phone call ended, emergency dispatchers received a call from a man who said that “someone was coming after him” and “he had been shot,” Napa County Sheriff’s Capt. Doug Pike said.

The men were identified as Dahl and Tawfilis by multiple sources, including Berokim and a person familiar with the investigation.

Tawfilis’ attorney David Wiseblood said in an email Monday that “this is really an awful day.” He could not be reached late Monday for further comment.

The Napa County Sheriff’s Office did not identify either of the men, describing them only as men in their 40s. Pike said he was not able to reach investigators late Monday to confirm the identities.

Deputies arrived within about one minute of that 11:49 a.m. call and saw two men standing in the vineyard, including a man armed with a gun who then ran to a nearby SUV and fled the area, Pike said.

One deputy followed Dahl while another found the other man, later identified by sources as Tawfilis, had fallen to the ground, wounded by a gunshot to the head near the corner of Solano Avenue and Hoffman Lane, Pike said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

A phalanx of deputies and officers pursued the SUV in a chase that ended 10 miles northwest of the vineyard, on a private driveway off Wall Road near the Sonoma County border. Deputies found the SUV, apparently stuck, in a heavily wooded private property.

Deputies surrounded the SUV and began to search the woods, aided by Napa police, CHP officers and a helicopter. They warned area residents to lock their doors and call 911 if they spotted suspicious activity.

Dahl reportedly was found dead in the vehicle after a SWAT unit in an armored vehicle arrived and approached the vehicle.

Late Monday afternoon, detectives were still analyzing potential evidence at the Solano Avenue property behind yellow police tape. The body lay near the corner at Hoffman Lane under a green tent as sheriff’s staff combed the vineyard with a metal detector.

A coroner’s van arrived as dusk approached. Coroner Sgt. Mark Foster said that the man, who wore jeans, sandals and a shirt, had only a set of keys in his pocket and no identification.

The legal battle between Dahl and Tawfilis was closely chronicled by online news site Wine Industry Insight. Founder Lewis Perdue said that court documents filed by Tawfilis’ firm, Lexington Street Investments, accused Dahl’s company of fraud. Tawfilis gave about $1.2 million in loans to Dahl’s Minnesota-based Patio Wine Co., and the lawsuit claims that Dahl then used the money for different businesses, according to Perdue.

Dahl “came on the scene about five or six years ago,” Perdue said. “He was a new wheeler and dealer, and he wanted to play big in the Napa Valley, and I think there were visions of grandeur.”

Originally from Minnesota, Dahl began his business ventures in the Napa Valley several years ago. They included Dahl Vineyards in 2013, according to the company’s website. Dahl also made a run at the craft beer business, opening Napa Point Brewing in an industrial park next to the Napa County airport. The business has since been shuttered.

The co-founder of Napa Point Brewery, Greg Knittel, said that after the gastropub closed, Dahl sought to re-open the business in 2013 in a historic downtown building. A city official on Monday said that deal apparently fell through.

Knittel said his former business partner had several legal actions pending against him and that Dahl “deserved every one” of them.

“The guy that he shot, Emad, was a good guy. Nobody deserves to be shot,” Knittel said late Monday.

“We feel terrible for the families of the victim and for the Dahl family,” Knittel said. “This is a tragedy.”

Staff Writers Paul Payne and Derek Moore contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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