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‘Shock, disgust, revulsion:’ Condemnation follows sexual assault allegations against Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli

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

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

Verity: 707-545-7273

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673

Explosive allegations of sexual assault involving Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli ignited a political firestorm Thursday that drew a chorus of calls for his immediate resignation and triggered an investigation by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Foppoli, 38, a well-known local politician and vintner whose star was on the rise, watched it fall abruptly after the San Francisco Chronicle published a detailed account of four alleged assaults involving different women over a 16-year period.

Those accusing Foppoli of sexual assault included a young woman whom he dated after she volunteered for his 2003 state Assembly campaign, a student he met at a junior college dance class, a woman he knew through the Active 20-30 Club and a French intern at Foppoli’s family-owned Christopher Creek Winery.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said late Thursday his office had launched a formal investigation after the Town of Windsor — which contracts with the Sheriff’s Office for policing services — asked his agency to open the probe.

“Here we have someone who is a trusted leader, a council member, a business owner and these are very serious and troubling allegations,” Essick said. “If we’re able to substantiate these allegations, this is criminal conduct and there are some severe consequences.”

First elected to the Town Council in 2014, Foppoli remained incommunicado Thursday, his Facebook page taken down and his cellphone going directly to voicemail. He did not respond to repeated requests for an interview Thursday, though it was clear he was monitoring text messages.

His attorney, Bethany Kristovich of Los Angeles, told the Chronicle on Wednesday that Foppoli “categorically denies having engaged in any of the abuses described.”

Contacted on Thursday by The Press Democrat Kristovich said, “As I’m sure you can imagine, Mr. Foppoli has been kind of buried with calls and emails this morning.” She added she was not authorized to release a statement on her client’s behalf.

Foppoli ousted from civic groups

The allegations led to Foppoli’s immediate ouster from several civic groups, including the Active 20-30 Club and Leadership Santa Rosa, a Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce leadership development program that accepts a limited number of participants each year.

All five Sonoma County supervisors, the mayor of every other city in the county, three state legislators and two of his three fellow Town Council members also called for his removal.

Councilwoman Esther Lemus, on social media, said Foppoli should resign as mayor immediately “in order for our Town to continue to function properly.”

Veteran Councilman Sam Salmon similarly said that “it was pretty obvious” that the council should ask him to resign. “Really the only action we can take immediately would be to ask Dominic to resign, and I think that would have to be at a council meeting,” Salmon said.

Longtime council member Deb Fudge, who had back surgery Thursday, was not available for comment, but wrote on Facebook before her procedure that she was “troubled, confused and shocked/surprised by what I read this morning.”

Town Manager Ken MacNab released a statement saying the town was “aware of the shocking and horrible allegations that have been made against Mayor Foppoli” and said they had been referred to the Windsor Police Department for further investigation.

He said the town also was “in the process of evaluating its duties and options under the circumstances.

“The conduct described in the article published by the San Francisco Chronicle is not acceptable nor does it reflect the values or standards we hold ourselves to as a community,” the statement read. “We ask for the community’s trust that the allegations are being taken seriously and that appropriate actions will be taken in response.”

At least three candidates vying for election to the town council seat Foppoli left open when he was elected mayor last fall also are seeking his removal.

Mayors demand resignation

The mayors of Sonoma County’s other eight cities all signed a statement demanding Foppoli resign from the town council “and all other elected and appointed positions and roles held with special districts and regional boards.”

That would include his new post representing the county on the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway & Transportation District, an appointment he won Tuesday when the Board of Supervisors advanced his nomination by the group of local mayors. Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, chair of the board, described on Facebook experiencing “shock, disgust, revulsion, the return of a particular pit in my stomach, and sadness and sorrow for the assault survivors” as she read the accounts of Foppoli’s accusers.

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

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

Verity: 707-545-7273

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673

“Some people might suggest that Dominic is being convicted without a fair trial,” she wrote. “When the statute of limitations has expired … when women fear retaliation or retribution or personal attack for speaking the truth … when women struggle with the intense trauma of an experience that engenders feelings of guilt and shame … when women live in a world where sexual misconduct is too often dismissed as a normal part of culture … “fair trials” aren’t always possible. I do hope, however, that further investigation is possible. It is certainly warranted.”

Hopkins also urged Foppoli to step down, and said his appointment to represent the county on the Golden Gate Bridge district should be rescinded. She said she regretted her vote to endorse Foppoli and advance his appointment.

“Our ability to lead depends in large part on whether we are trusted by others, and whether we can work alongside and with our communities. I believe that Mayor Foppoli has lost the ability to lead his community,” Hopkins wrote in the Facebook post.

The other four members of the board also called on Foppoli to step down, as did Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa, and state Sens. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and Bill Dodd, D-Napa.

‘Abuse of power’

Foppoli has long had a reputation as a womanizer and partyer, and many of the scores of people who took part in discussion of the case on social media Thursday wondered how he had managed to hold public office without stumbling so far.

Of particular concern to Windsor residents was a letter of warning written to then-Windsor Mayor Fudge in 2017 by a woman who had rented a guesthouse at Christopher Creek and who described what she said was “Foppoli’s predatory nature and abuse of power.”

The author, whose name was redacted in the letter obtained Thursday by The Press Democrat and included in the Chronicle story, described how Foppoli inserted himself into a joint birthday party being celebrated by eight women, inviting himself to dinner. He later followed guests to the hot tub, where he proceeded to try to remove their bathing suits and undergarments “when everyone was distracted by him telling us to look up,” she wrote.

He had earlier required two young female employees from the tasting room who accompanied him to remove their clothes and underwear and wear blanket “togas,” and put on a toga himself, the letter states. He also “slyly” refilled peoples’ wine glasses in a manner “choreographed so well, it seemed like he had pulled this stunt many times before,” she said.

The council nonetheless appointed Foppoli mayor in late 2018 and again a year later before new district elections and a voter-selected mayor system became law.

Salmon said this week he did not recall the details of the 2017 letter and may never have read the whole thing, but recalled that the then-town manager and police chief had been asked to look into it and were unable to confirm its contents with the author.

But he also said Foppoli indicated the writer was “disgruntled about her experience there, the financial part,” perhaps because her friends did not pitch in as expected.

Seeing it more recently, “what struck me about it was the allegation that the two young women that were working in the tasting room were asked to do things that were — I don’t know how to explain it — inappropriate, obviously,” Salmon said.

Allegations of assault

The allegations of sexual assault date back to the early days of the vintner’s career, beginning in 2003 when the Cardinal Newman High School grad hoped to become the youngest person elected to the California Assembly.

The first alleged assault involved an 18-year-old volunteer on Foppoli’s campaign who said he pressured her to drink alcohol for the first time and raped her twice at a house party, the Chronicle reported.

The second allegedly occurred in 2006. A woman who met Foppoli at a dance class said Foppoli attempted to have sex with her, despite her objections, after drinking at a nightclub, the newspaper reported. She locked herself in a bathroom to protect herself.

The third alleged assault occurred in 2012. A woman who encountered Foppoli at an Active 20-30 civic club meeting in Reno said he engaged in oral copulation with her while she was nearly unconscious and too drunk to consent, the newspaper reported.

The fourth allegedly occurred in 2019, when a winery intern said Foppoli forcibly kissed and groped her despite her objections.

None of the women who spoke to the Chronicle notified police or pursued legal action after the alleged encounters with Foppoli, saying they were ashamed and wanted to put the incidents in the past.

DA asks victims to step forward

District Attorney Jill Ravitch said prosecutors had not spoken with the women Thursday and hoped they will come forward so her office can learn more about the incidents and evaluate whether the statute of limitations would allow them to proceed with investigations.

Ravitch said she learned about the allegations against Foppoli when a colleague sent her a link to the Chronicle story.

“We are very concerned with what we learned through the article and we are looking into it further and hope we’ll have an opportunity to speak with these women and with anyone else who may have information,” Ravitch said.

Separate from any criminal inquiry, Ravitch said she hoped the women and others will seek support through community resources like Verity, the county’s sexual assault crisis center, and the Family Justice Center, which can connect people with counseling services, support groups and other programs.

Ravitch said she hoped that by sharing their stories, the women have created a “call to action” to anyone who witnesses suspicious or inappropriate behavior, especially involving people who are intoxicated or otherwise vulnerable, to look out for one another. She encouraged anyone who may feel victimized to reach out to law enforcement even if they aren’t sure a crime occurred.

“People that engage in this kind of conduct, it’s not unusual to see them repeating that behavior,” Ravitch said, speaking generally about sexual assault. “By speaking up, these women may be preventing further victimization — and that’s an important thing.”

Christopher Creek Winery, which Foppoli and several business partners purchased in 2012, appeared undisturbed Thursday.

About a dozen cars were parked on the property around noon, and guests were sampling vintages and enjoying the views from the tasting room. A handful of workers tended the vines and landscaping.

An employee staffing the front desk said that Foppoli was not on the property and he didn’t know when he might return. He referred questions from a Press Democrat reporter to Brian Noble, co-owner and general counsel for the winery.

Noble declined to answer questions on the record.

Staff Writers Julie Johnson, Andrew Graham, Kaylee Tornay and Bill Swindell contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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