Subscribe

Sheriff’s Office opens investigation into Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli following sexual assault allegations

Resources for survivors of sexual assault

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

Four women have accused Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli of sexually assaulting them, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday.

The allegations, which span a 16-year period dating back to the beginning of the 38-year-old vintner’s political career, sparked immediate calls for Foppoli to step down as mayor of Sonoma County’s fourth-largest city. By Thursday afternoon, that roster included all five county supervisors, the mayor of every city in the county, at least one Windsor council member and a growing number of state legislators and city officials.

“Given the severity and specificity of the allegations against Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli there’s only one option — he needs to resign immediately. Mr. Foppoli has caused tremendous pain and trauma with his appalling and disgusting behavior,” state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said Thursday on Twitter.

Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said late Thursday his office had launched a formal investigation into the allegations. Essick, top supervisors and sexual assault investigators began discussing how they might open a probe after the Chronicle story broke Thursday morning. By late afternoon, they had met with the District Attorney’s Office and Windsor Police Chief Ruben Martinez, who said the council had formally asked him, and therefore the Sheriff’s Office — which contracts with Windsor for policing services — to investigate Foppoli.

“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.”

Essick said that as a father of a 21-year-old daughter, the story hit home. And as the sheriff, he wanted to assure anyone thinking about coming forward to report their experience that they would be treated with respect, and offered confidentiality and anonymity. Essick encouraged anyone with information to come forward either to his office, the District Attorney’s Office or the Family Justice Center. He commended the women for speaking out.

“These people are brave, these people are heroes, and they’ve gone through a trauma and we want to assure we will respect them,” Essick said.

The Town of Windsor referred the “shocking and horrible allegations” to the Windsor Police Department for investigation and is evaluating both its duties and its options, according to a statement issued from the office of Town Manager Ken MacNab.

“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.”

Foppoli could not be reached immediately for comment by The Press Democrat. His attorney, Bethany Kristovich of Los Angeles, said Thursday she was not authorized to issue a statement on his behalf.

Kristovich told the Chronicle on Wednesday that Foppoli “categorically denies having engaged in any of the abuses described.”

The first alleged assault occurred in 2003. An 18-year-old volunteer on Foppoli’s campaign for state Assembly 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.

In 2017, a person who had rented the guesthouse at his winery, Christopher Creek Winery, notified the town of another disturbing encounter with Foppoli. The person alleged Foppoli invited himself to dinner at the guesthouse in 2013, made two tasting room employees take off their underwear and wear “blanket togas,” and later tried to remove a guest’s bathing suit by the hot tub. In the email to then-Mayor Debora Fudge, obtained by The Press Democrat and the Chronicle through the California Public Records Act, the person alleged Foppoli had a “predatory nature” and had engaged in “abuse of power.”

Resources for survivors of sexual assault

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

“It was choreographed so well, it seemed like he had pulled this stunt many times before. None of the women gave consent for him to starting pulling off their underwear or bathing suit. None of us requested more alcohol as he secretly topped off our drinks. Several of us were very upset and shaken by the violation we felt at his hands and the pressure to accommodate him as the owner of the winery we were staying at,” the person wrote. Their name was redacted from the email by town officials.

READ THE 2017 EMAIL SENT TO WINDSOR MAYOR DEBORA FUDGE:

2017 complaint to Mayor Debora Fudge

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.

Foppoli declined a request for an interview, the newspaper reported. His attorney did not address the details of the women’s accounts in her emailed statement.

“Sexual assault and sexual misconduct are very serious issues, and Mr. Foppoli takes these allegations very seriously,” Kristovich told the Chronicle. “He has a long history of supporting women in his business, personal, and political lives, and the accusation that he has engaged in any of these misdeeds is deeply troubling. Mr. Foppoli prides himself on working to improve life for all of his constituents, and he will continue to maintain the fundamental value of treating everyone with respect.”

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said she and her top prosecutors are discussing the allegations outlined in the Chronicle story. Prosecutors have not yet spoken with the women and hope 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.

“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.

The Press Democrat editorial board, which operates separately from the newsroom, published an editorial Thursday afternoon calling upon Foppoli to resign immediately or be removed from office.

As the day went on, a growing chorus of Sonoma County political leaders urged Foppoli to resign.

Lynda Hopkins, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, urged Foppoli to step down and said his appointment to represent the county on the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, approved Tuesday by supervisors, should be rescinded. She said she regretted her vote to endorse Foppoli and advance his appointment to bridge district board of directors.

“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 said Thursday in a Facebook post.

The other four members of the board also called on Foppoli to step down.

Chris Rogers, mayor of Santa Rosa, said Foppoli should resign or be removed by voters.

“I understand that everyone in this country is innocent until proven guilty, but these allegations are credible, specific, documented, and horrifying. I felt sick reading this article and had to take multiple breaks — I can only imagine how the victims felt and continue to feel,” Rogers said in a statement on Facebook.

Windsor Councilwoman Esther Lemus, a deputy district attorney, said she was horrified by the allegations. She was the first member of the Town Council to speak out on the scandal and to call on Foppoli to step down.

“I am saddened for the victims & disgusted by the allegations against Dominic Foppoli. In order for our town to continue to function properly, I request his immediate resignation,” Lemus said on Twitter.

Ariel Kelley, a member of the Healdsburg City Council, echoed the sentiment.

“This is horrifying. These allegations are numerous, extensively corroborated, and extremely serious,” Kelley said in a post on Twitter. “Mayor Foppoli must resign immediately, and if he doesn’t, the Windsor Town Council should take the necessary action to remove him.”

Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa, also called on Foppoli to resign.

“I stand with the women who have shared their painful & most personal experience of being sexually assaulted by Dominic Foppoli. He must resign from his public office immediately. The horrifying and disgusting reported behavior by Foppoli must be investigated without delay,” Wood said on Twitter.

On Tuesday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to appoint Foppoli to a seat on the Golden Gate Bridge District as the county’s representative. The supervisors acted more as a rubber stamp on the appointment, Hopkins said, with Foppoli’s name put forward by the Mayors and Councilmembers Association of Sonoma County.

Hopkins will be asking that association to rescind their appointment and select someone new, she said. She also hopes for the full board to have a discussion on the appointment, she said, and consider options. “We took an action on Tuesday that elevates Dominic Foppoli to a regional leadership position,” Hopkins said. “Even if we don’t have a direction from the mayors and councilmembers, we need to grapple with that fact.”

She said the allegations against him damage public trust in Sonoma County’s government.

“Having a leader who behaves like that it affects us all,” she said. “It generates distrust. How can someone like that have that much power and rise to that much eminence in our community. That’s something that I think every leader needs to grapple with.”

Supervisor Susan Gorin said Foppoli’s ability to stay in any appointed or elected office was in doubt, and she called for a criminal investigation.

“If it’s found that the allegations have merit, then potentially the Board of Supervisors or Golden Gate Bridge District could take action,” Gorin said. “I treat these allegations very, very seriously and I would encourage the district attorney to fully investigate the circumstances and if the allegations have merit to prosecute.”

The board of directors of the Active 20-30 U.S. & Canada Organization on Thursday initiated proceedings to expel Foppoli, a member of the organization’s Santa Rosa chapter, in light of the allegations.

“While we are not yet fully aware of the facts in this matter, we acknowledge the pain and anguish of the victims of these events, as well as the enormous courage those victims demonstrate in publicly addressing their experiences,” Tiffani Montgomery, the organization’s national president, said in a statement. “No one, whether an Active 20-30 Club member or not, should ever have to tolerate this kind of abuse. The Board of Directors is both saddened and outraged in the wake of these allegations and stands firmly with the victims. The Board of Directors deeply regrets any lapses on its part that may have permitted this abuse to persist, and the victim's suffering prolonged.”

Montgomery said the organization’s board would take “new, concrete steps” to protect its members from abuse in the future and had “engaged an independent investigator” to help the organization address the allegations against Foppoli.

“The Board of Directors pledges that abusive or potentially abusive behavior related to any Club member or Club activity will be thoroughly and zealously investigated and addressed,” Montgomery continued in her statement.

Foppoli is co-owner of Christopher Creek Winery in Healdsburg with his brother, Joe Foppoli, and friend Liam McCormick. The boutique winery produces about 4,000 cases annually and sources from local vineyards.

The winery is a member of Sonoma County Vintners, the county’s largest winery trade group, though Foppoli is not personally a member, said Michael Haney, the executive director for the group.

“Sonoma County Vintners will continue to monitor these very serious allegations and will provide updates on further responses and actions,” Haney said in an email statement to The Press Democrat. “We are deeply disturbed by these very serious allegations of sexual assault and harassment. Sexual assault and harassment are violent acts we categorically do not condone or tolerate. Period.”

Peter Rumble, CEO of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, said he informed Foppoli via email Thursday morning that the mayor could no longer participate in the current class of Leadership Santa Rosa, the chamber’s nearly 40-year-old community leadership program. Rumble said he made the decision to remove Foppoli based on the “heinous” allegations detailed in the Chronicle story.

“Everyone deserves due process, but the information that was reported is absolutely sickening,” Rumble said, adding that it was “incredibly courageous of the women to go on the record and be named.”

Separate from any criminal inquiry, District Attorney 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.”

Staff Writers Julie Johnson, Bill Swindell and Andrew Graham contributed to this story.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette