Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli, council member Esther Lemus accuse each other of sexual misconduct
Editor’s Note: This story contains detailed allegations of sexual assault that may be disturbing to readers.
Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli and fellow council member Esther Lemus accused each other of sexual misconduct during alcohol-infused encounters, leveling a series of stunning allegations late Saturday that widened the scope of a scandal engulfing Sonoma County’s fourth-largest city.
Lemus, a Sonoma County prosecutor, became the sixth woman to accuse Foppoli of sexual assault. She believes Foppoli slipped her drugs to facilitate sex without her consent, leading to sexual assaults in February and August 2020.
She said one occurred after Foppoli and another man drove her home following a community crab feed; the second took place at his winery and involved a friend of Foppoli. It was recorded on a tasting room video camera and held over Lemus’ head to prevent her from disclosing the earlier incident, she said.
Reading last week’s accounts of his other accusers resonated profoundly, and Lemus went to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday to tell her story.
“I’m speaking up because I know there are more victims out there,” Lemus said, “and it takes courage to come forward, and we’re done with this. We’re done with this.”
The allegations were made during a hastily arranged interview with The Press Democrat hours after Foppoli issued a statement of his own saying Lemus, who is married and has two young daughters, had coerced him into a “sexual situation” at a government conference, then threatened his political career if he exposed her.
Lemus acknowledges huge gaps in her knowledge or memory of what happened to her on the two nights in question. She believes “date-rape drugs” were slipped into her drinks on evenings with Foppoli when the alcohol flowed freely, causing her to become disoriented, violently ill and, eventually, blackout.
Lemus, 48, said she believes she was raped, sodomized and left nude on a downstairs couch at her home while her husband slept upstairs after Foppoli and another man drove her home, where she vomited and lost consciousness. The next day, Lemus said, Foppoli’s girlfriend said the mayor had told her he “tucked me into bed” the night before.
She said she had a similar experience several months later at Foppoli’s winery in Healdsburg, Christopher Creek Winery, when she again became confused, ill and lost her memory. She said she remembers Foppoli at one point introducing her to a man who led her through the dark to the winery’s tasting room, where the two engaged in a sexual act that the mayor “made sure” she knew he knew about the next day.
Early Sunday morning, Foppoli aggressively denounced Lemus’s accusations, calling them “outrageous fabulist tales.”
“Mrs. Lemus has led the charge in asking for my resignation and it wasn’t until I defended myself and told the truth regarding these manufactured and baseless accusations against me that she showed the degree in which she, at the very least, is complicit in the witch hunt by these continuing attempts at assassinating my character.”
Foppoli asked for Lemus’s resignation as Deputy District Attorney and Windsor council member “so she can in no way continue influence matters as I work to clear myself against these false accusations.”
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office has opened an investigation into the events described by Lemus, she said. Sheriff Mark Essick, who launched an investigation Thursday following allegations by other women, declined to comment Sunday morning on the scope of the probe, citing state laws that require confidentiality for sexual assault victims. Her boss, District Attorney Jill Ravitch, also declined to comment Saturday night.
The Town of Windsor announced it will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday to consider demanding that Foppoli resign. Members of the public can participate in the meeting by visiting https://zoom.us/j/93594176326 or by dialing 877-853-5247 and enter Webinar ID 935 9417 6326. All three fellow members of the Town Council have called on Foppoli to step down.
The explosive accusations followed three days of shocking disclosures involving five other women who told the San Francisco Chronicle that Foppoli sexually assaulted them, as well as escalating pressure on the 38-year-old unmarried mayor to resign from all elected and appointed posts.
Foppoli leveled the allegations about Lemus in a lengthy statement Saturday in which he asserted his complete innocence of “any such repulsive claims,” crediting the scandal to “political and social machinations.” He also vowed to fight back and “clear my name.”