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Warning in 2020 about Dominic Foppoli spurred Windsor to notify police, but no case opened at that time

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

In February 2020, a Windsor resident came forward to town officials and shared in an email what she said she had heard about Mayor Dominic Foppoli — that multiple women had accused him of rape and that he was not fit to serve as Windsor’s top elected official.

“The people of Windsor do not want a 4 year term Mayor, especially Dominic who I have learned recently has been accused of rape by more than one women,” Patty Wallace wrote.

It was at least the second written warning that Windsor officials had logged about Foppoli’s alleged sexual abuse of women in just over three years. The first one was a 2017 email that was more detailed and was a firsthand account, describing a 2013 party among women friends at their guest quarters at Foppoli’s winery. He crashed the party, pressured his female employees to take off their underwear, tried to undress one of the guests and sought to get them drunk without their consent, the writer alleged.

That complaint did not go to police for another three years, Windsor officials disclosed Tuesday. It wasn’t until the second complaint in February 2020 that town officials handed over both emails to police and to sheriff’s detectives who oversee sexual assault investigations, Windsor Town Manager Ken MacNab said on Tuesday in a written statement.

In both cases, authorities declined to open a criminal investigation, MacNab said.

Then last Thursday, the San Francisco Chronicle published a bombshell report detailing allegations from four women who say Foppoli sexually assaulted them between 2003, when he made his first unsuccessful run for public office, and 2019, during his first full year as mayor.

That report was where town officials “first learned about the depth and breadth of the accusations against the Mayor,” MacNab said in the Tuesday statement. He sought to detail the town’s response to the pair of complaints and to outline for the first time what Windsor officials knew about allegations of sexual assault and misconduct involving Foppoli, when they knew it and what they did about it.

“The Town of Windsor is as shocked and disturbed about the allegations of sexual assault against Mayor Foppoli as is the community,” the statement read. “We vehemently condemn the crimes alleged against Mayor Foppoli and stand strong with the victims.”

The existence of the 2017 email was first reported by the Chronicle last week. The Press Democrat obtained the 2020 email from Wallace in a public records request last week.

Those records show that town officials, including two of the three current incumbents — longtime council members Deb Fudge and Sam Salmon — knew at least since late 2017 about allegations of Foppoli’s mistreatment of women.

The Nov. 20, 2017 email — sent from an unidentified woman whose name Windsor redacted in its records — accused Foppoli of a range of sexual misconduct when he crashed the private party involving seven of her friends at a vacation home they’d rented at his Christopher Creek Winery in 2013. At the time Foppoli was not yet an elected official.

Windsor officials and fellow council members had confronted Foppoli about that complaint in late 2017 and his fellow council members opted not to select him as mayor that year as a result, several council members from the time told The Press Democrat this week. The town did not, however, send that complaint on to authorities, according to MacNab’s statement.

The second complaint, dated Feb. 18, 2020, again raised questions inside Town Hall about Foppoli’s conduct toward women.

The email, which did not elaborate on the rape accusations, was shared with the Town Council, according to the Tuesday statement. MacNab confronted Foppoli with the allegations, he said, and the mayor denied them.

Those early complaints, largely kept out of the public eye, were just a hint of the storm of scandal that would soon engulf Foppoli and Windsor.

Foppoli has proclaimed his innocence and has defied calls for his resignation as a recall campaign ramps up. An emergency town meeting set for Wednesday is aimed partly at exploring how the Town Council could back a recall effort.

The three other members on the council have all urged him to step down. The newest member, Esther Lemus, on Saturday became the sixth woman to publicly accuse Foppoli of sexual assault. She told The Press Democrat that she believes Foppoli slipped her drugs that led to sexual assaults that she suspects involved him in February and August 2020.

Wallace’s February 2020 email came at the same time as the first of those reported assaults, but did not include any reference to the councilwoman’s accusation. Lemus said she woke up in her house naked with a towel placed across her waist after being dropped off by Foppoli following a community crab feast. She suspected she was raped and that Foppoli may have drugged her, she alleged.

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

Foppoli has called Lemus’s allegations “outrageous fabulist tales.” The California Attorney General’s Office has taken over an investigation of the case, after Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch recused her own office, where Lemus serves as a deputy district attorney. Lemus reported the incidents to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office after the Chronicle published its investigation.

When Windsor officials presented local law enforcement with the 2017 and 2020 emails, authorities determined they would not launch a criminal investigation, MacNab said.

“Based on the facts known at the time the 2020 email was received, the (Windsor) Police Department determined the incident did not rise to a level of a crime to open an investigation. Both emails and all related information were also shared with the Sheriff's Office Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Sergeant, who came to the same conclusion as the Police Chief,” MacNab said.

Windsor contracts for police service with the Sheriff’s Office. An employee who answered the phone Tuesday at the Windsor Police Department directed a reporter’s inquiries to the sheriff’s department. Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Misti Wood said Windsor Police Chief Ruben Martinez would not be available for comment on Tuesday.

Councilwoman Deb Fudge, who has defended her handling of the 2017 allegations, accused Wallace of slander in her response to the 2020 email. In an email sent minutes after Wallace’s complaint came in, Fudge asks Wallace “who did you sent (sic) this to?”

“I think your comments are highly inappropriate and unproven,” she added.

“I think you need to retract this email,” Fudge wrote. “Windsor is better than this. You should not slander anyone for any reason.”

In an interview on Tuesday afternoon, Fudge characterized her response as hastily composed.

“I responded emotionally within four minutes of receiving her email and I regret that,” Fudge said. “Her email was clearly politically based. I didn’t think it was a new charge of rape from a victim."

Fudge believed Wallace was responding to the 2017 email and characterizing those allegations as rape, she said. When asked, however, Fudge said she had no reason to believe Wallace would’ve been aware of those allegations, which didn’t become public until last week.

Wallace writes frequently to the council on a wide variety of issues, Fudge said, and the email came at a time of political acrimony in Windsor over a wide variety of municipal issues and politicking.

"I thought (Wallace) was starting a new rumor and stirring things up with something that was meant to be political,“ she said. ”Looking back, maybe she heard something from somebody else.”

A request for comment to Wallace had not been returned late Tuesday.

At Wednesday’s 6 p.m. town meeting, council members intend to demand Foppoli’s resignation. Fudge said she will also bring a motion to censure the mayor.

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 specify that Esther Lemus made public her sexual allegations against Dominic Foppoli on Saturday, April 10. She went to the Sheriff’s Office with her account on Thursday, April 8.

Andrew Graham

City of Santa Rosa, The Press Democrat 

As Sonoma County's largest city, Santa Rosas policy, politics, crime, and economy affect the lives of North Bay residents inside city limits and beyond in ways both obvious and unseen. I aim to document those impacts and give voice to city residents.

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