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Sheriff’s detectives carry out search of ex-Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli’s home in sexual assault case

Resources for survivors of sexual assault

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

A raid by local authorities Wednesday at the home of Dominic Foppoli escalated a now seven-month investigation into sexual assault allegations made by a rising number of women against the disgraced former Windsor mayor.

The two-hour search, which began about 8 a.m. at Foppoli’s Windsor home on Merlot Way, was led by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and included members of a North Bay law enforcement task force specializing in computer evidence, officials said.

The deputies and detectives arrived in unmarked cars and declined comment as they went about their work serving a search warrant. They left the upscale suburb on Windsor’s west side after 10 a.m. with several brown paper bags filled with evidence.

It was the first warrant served in an investigation launched by Sheriff Mark Essick in April in the immediate wake of the first set of claims aired by four women against Foppoli. And though officials declined to say what items were removed from the home or what had led to the raid, they described the operation as a major step forward in a case that had fallen out of the public spotlight in recent months.

“Certainly this is a milestone or a mark of progress in the case,” Essick said.

The detectives and officers who conducted the search were from the Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force, Essick told The Press Democrat.

Known as NC3TF, the task force brings “computer forensic assistance” to law enforcement across seven northern Bay Area counties including Sonoma, according to its website.

Essick declined to elaborate on the focus, progress or timeline of the investigation but said the evidence gathered Wednesday could open new lines of inquiry for detectives.

“We’ve never stopped working this case since its inception,” he said.

Foppoli, who has denied committing any sex crimes and has not been charged in the case, did not respond to a voicemail and text message seeking comment Wednesday. A woman who identified herself only as a tenant at his home told The Press Democrat that Foppoli had told her he was going to Italy and would be there for “several months.”

Foppoli’s family hails from Italy and owns property outside Milan.

The day marked significant progress in the case and a momentous moment for women who’ve come forward with allegations against Foppoli, Santa Rosa attorney Traci Carrillo said.

Carrillo represents seven women accusing Foppoli of sexual assault or misconduct. She voiced confidence that Foppoli would face charges.

“I’m watching for him to be paraded publicly in handcuffs and be charged with the crimes that I know he’s committed,” she said.

Among the seven women Carrillo represents are two whose allegations of sexual assault are not yet public knowledge, she said. Carrillo declined to characterize those allegations, other than to say that they were “consistent with the pattern of behavior that has been publicly discussed.”

She also declined to say when the alleged assaults occurred, but did say that Foppoli was an elected official at the time and that the alleged crimes took place in Sonoma County.

Foppoli was elected to the Windsor Town Council in 2014 when he was 32, becoming the youngest council member in the town’s history. He first served as the town’s appointed mayor in 2018 and won its inaugural race for a directly elected mayor’s post in 2020.

Essick confirmed investigators had spoken with the two women described by Carrillo as new additions to the case against Foppoli. When he resigned in late May, nine women had publicly shared their accounts of alleged assault or abuse by Foppoli. They ranged from rape to groping and forced oral copulation.

Essick declined to say how many of those claims or individuals were a focus of the investigation.

Speaking generally, “when you’re working on an investigation sometimes you have new victims that come forward with new allegations and sometimes you have new pieces of evidence that are turned over to you from those victims that open new pathways,” Essick said.

Carrillo, who in May expressed frustration with the urgency and aggressiveness of the law enforcement investigation, said her concerns have been assuaged over intervening months.

“I have been aware of regular progress of an active and ongoing investigation,” Carrillo said.

New allegations may have broadened the investigation’s scope, she said. “It’s just the investigation took on a bigger life than initially expected,” she added.

Carrillo declined to name her other clients, saying she would honor the justice system’s efforts to keep the identities of sexual assault victims confidential even if some of the women have already gone public. One is Esther Lemus, a Windsor councilwoman and former prosecutor who left the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office in August. Lemus has accused Foppoli of sexual assault on two occasions.

Foppoli defied widespread and nearly universal calls from constituents and local, state and federal lawmakers demanding his resignation after the allegations came to light. He faced a budding recall effort before he announced, on May 21, that he would step down.

That move came after reality TV star Farrah Abraham accused him of sexual assault during an encounter in Palm Beach, Florida, at the end of March. Police there are conducting a separate investigation, and a captain said Wednesday that the search in Windsor was unrelated.

The Sonoma County search warrant documents are under a court seal, said Sgt. Juan Valencia, the Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

The Sheriff’s Office launched its investigation following publication of an April 8 story by the San Francisco Chronicle that detailed allegations from four women.

The wider, current set of public allegations from nine women span the years from 2002 to 2021.

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch recused herself and her office from the Foppoli investigation immediately after learning of Lemus’ allegations. The California Attorney General’s Office took over the case, and Essick described them as active partners in the investigation.

“We’ve dedicated significant resources, as has the California Department of Justice,” he said.

California’s campaign finance regulator, the California Fair Political Practices Commission, also has two open probes into complaints about Foppoli’s past political spending.

On Wednesday morning, a man who would not give his name arrived at the residence during the search and told The Press Democrat he had been living in the home with his mother for the past month. They paid rent to Foppoli, he said.

The mother, who briefly spoke to a reporter on the phone, said that Foppoli was in Italy and had told her he would be there for a “couple of months.”

Foppoli’s family owns a thousand-year-old castle 75 miles northeast of Milan in the town of Mazzo de Valtellini. He bought the property, named Castello Foppoli, after it went up for sale about five years ago, he previously told The Press Democrat.

Essick said he was not aware of Foppoli’s whereabouts. “At this point there’s nothing prohibiting him from leaving the country and traveling,” he said.

Law enforcement officials viewed the Windsor house as Foppoli’s home and said he maintained a bedroom and personal property there.

Foppoli was in the Bay Area as recently as Aug. 22, when he posted a photo on his personal Facebook page and marked his location as the Oakland Coliseum.

The April 2 sexual battery report filed by Abraham with the Palm Beach Police Department against Foppoli remained under active investigation by the agency’s detective bureau, Palm Beach Police spokesman Captain Will Rothrock said.

Rothrock declined to provide additional details about that investigation’s status, including information about whether detectives there have issued any search warrants or the extent of who has been interviewed in connection with the case.

It was unclear how long the detectives’ investigation into the Abraham report would take, Rothrock said.

“I don’t have a date or a time frame,” Rothrock said. “I can’t even sit here and say ‘It’s going to be soon or long.’”

Wednesday’s search was not the first time law enforcement visited Foppoli’s home in recent weeks. On Oct. 13, sheriff’s deputies responded to a 911 call after residents of the house reported their roommate unresponsive.

First responders found a resident dead from what appeared to be a possible drug overdose, Valencia previously told The Press Democrat. A deputy found drug paraphernalia in the bedroom of the 30-year-old dead man, and the death was not considered suspicious.

Foppoli is not a subject of the investigation and was not at home at the time of the death, Valencia said. Wednesday’s search had no connection to that incident, he said.

Foppoli’s home is just south of downtown Windsor. Real estate websites list the property as a four-bedroom house, and Foppoli valued its fair market value at under $1 million in a June 2020 disclosure of his financial assets while in office.

The home played a role in the Chronicle’s initial investigation, where the newspaper reported Foppoli had often rented bedrooms to interns and volunteers at his winery, a statement it attributed to five former tenants. One former intern at Foppoli’s Christopher Creek Winery told the Chronicle that while he was staying at the then-mayor’s home, his landlord and boss pushed him to invite women to a party at the winery. One of those women has accused the former mayor of assault.

Staff Writer Emily Wilder contributed to this report.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com and Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com.

Resources for survivors of sexual assault

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

Andrew Graham

Business enterprise and investigations, The Press Democrat 

I dig into businesses, utility companies and nonprofits to learn how their actions, or inactions, impact the lives of North Bay residents. I’m looking to dive deep into public utilities, labor struggles and real estate deals. I try to approach my work with the journalism axioms of giving voice to the voiceless, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable in mind.

Nashelly Chavez

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, The Press Democrat 

Who calls the North Bay home and how do their backgrounds, socioeconomic status and other factors shape their experiences? What cultures, traditions and religions are celebrated where we live? These are the questions that drive me as I cover diversity, equity and inclusion in Sonoma County and beyond.   

 

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