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Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli resigns after sexual assault allegation by reality TV personality Farrah Abraham

Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli abruptly resigned from office Friday, bowing to widespread calls that he step down amid criminal investigations fueled by public claims from what are now nine women who say he sexually assaulted, abused or mistreated them.

Foppoli, the politically ambitious scion of a wealthy Sonoma County wine family, announced his move a day before his 39th birthday in a written statement released through his attorney, provoking a mix of bitter relief and irritation in Windsor and beyond that he didn’t leave sooner.

“It is with heavy heart that I am resigning, effective today,” Foppoli wrote. “I have always and will always maintain that I did not engage in any non-consensual acts with any woman. I recently learned that a woman in Palm Beach, Florida is accusing me of non-consensual acts while I was visiting there in March of this year.”

He said he wanted to spare Windsor “undue national attention” brought about by “lawful, but poor choices, I have made in the recent past,” and said he hoped to see the town flourish “unimpeded by the unfortunate distraction these exploitative allegations will cause.”

His statement referred in part to the latest allegation against him — made by a social media influencer and former reality TV personality, Farrah Abraham, who filed a police report in Palm Beach, Florida, on April 2 alleging what her attorney said was “very serious” misconduct “of a sexual nature” that he declined to describe lest it jeopardize the investigation.

Attorney Spencer Kuvin, who represented at least nine victims of the late prominent sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, said the incident occurred when Abraham was in Florida at the end of March for a charity event in Palm Beach for an animal rescue organization called Big Dog Ranch. He declined to say exactly where the assault took place or if anyone else was present, but said Abraham had physical and digital evidence from the incident that has been turned over to police.

He said neither he nor Abraham would release details until the investigation was concluded, though rumors about the case reached Sonoma County more than a month ago, according to two people with ties to Foppoli who asked not to be named to discuss what they’d heard.

Abraham, 29, who lives in Los Angeles, had spoken with Sonoma County investigators, Kuvin said, but he wouldn’t clarify the extent of their communication.

For now, “she is still incredibly upset, trying to stay away from media and publicity,” Kuvin said.

Foppoli, in his statement, falsely accused Abraham of making her allegations after the San Francisco Chronicle’s initial story April 8, detailing accounts of the first four women who came forward to accuse Foppoli of sexual assault over a span of years from 2003 to 2019.

“I have no doubt she is making these allegations in an attempt to leverage the situation to her advantage,” Foppoli said in his statement.

Kuvin said Abraham went to law enforcement six days before the exposé about Foppoli’s conduct was published.

Sonoma County sheriff’s detectives, who are investigating local claims against Foppoli, in collaboration with the California Attorney General’s Office, have compared notes with police in Florida, though the investigations are proceeding separately, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Juan Valencia said.

“During the scope of the investigation, we became aware of it and spoke to detectives about it,” Valencia said.

Foppoli’s departure has been sought by constituents and demanded by Town Council colleagues since the first hour in which news of sexual assault allegations were first made public in the initial Chronicle story. Beyond his colleagues and Windsor residents, all of his fellow Sonoma County mayors, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, state lawmakers and both congressmen representing the region have all called for his resignation.

He was swiftly ousted from leadership posts outside of Windsor, including a just-bestowed appointment as the mayors’ representative to the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, as well as a post affiliated with the League of California Cities.

Foppoli has been stripped of roles within his family’s Christopher Creek Winery, which he ran with his brother and brother-in-law. And he’s been booted from the Active 20-30 club, to which one accuser belonged, and been dropped from the Leadership Santa Rosa civic program.

His departure from Town Hall was long overdue, officials and residents said Friday. They said the scandal and Foppoli’s defiance in the face of calls for his ouster had caused deep hurt, especially for survivors of sexual assault. A recall campaign had moved quickly to begin gathering signatures to put the matter on the ballot.

One of his accusers, Windsor Councilwoman Esther Lemus, said she was “pleased to hear the news” Foppoli had resigned and hopeful the town “can begin to heal and move forward.”

“I continue to support all survivors who have been courageous enough to come forward and share their sexual assaults by Dominic Foppoli,” Lemus said in a written statement released by her victim rights attorney. “I know how difficult it is and stand united with them. I look forward to justice being served.”

Councilwoman Deb Fudge acknowledged that Windsor, home to 27,000 people and Sonoma County’s fourth largest city, had suffered a heavy blow in a scandal that reached to the top of town government. Lives were upended, she said.

“It is with a sigh of relief that he is leaving,” Fudge said. “It should have happened much sooner, but at least it’s happened now. I’m pleased the recall committee can now stand down and get back to their lives.

“It will take a lot of work to help bring this entire town back to the position where we were before all this came to light,” Fudge said.

Oddly, though Foppoli’s letter of resignation was distributed to media and to Lemus’ attorney, no official notice had been submitted to Town Hall by Friday evening, according to Ken MacNab, the town manager.

Though Town Hall is closed on Fridays, MacNab said attempts had been made to contact Foppoli directly to confirm his plans, so far unsuccessfully.

Vice Mayor Sam Salmon said the resignation would be accepted during the council’s June 2 meeting.

“We’re all assuming it’s a valid resignation,” he said, noting that “actually, I’m pretty happy.”

“I do like congeniality and now we’re going to have to talk about how that reflects when you hold public office,” Salmon said.

Tim Zahner, who has spearheaded the recall campaign against Foppoli, was awaiting independent confirmation before dropping the effort. “But if this is indeed true, it is long overdue, and we look forward to moving past it,” Zahner said.

Foppoli’s notice of resignation came in a statement released by Orchid Vaghti, his Santa Rosa-based criminal attorney.

In it, Foppoli said he was sure that his name eventually would be cleared but had “come to understand that it will take time,” and that it was “no longer fair for me to remain in my position during this time period.”

Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli's letter of resignation May 21, 2021, provided by his attorney Orchid Vaghti.
Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli's letter of resignation May 21, 2021, provided by his attorney Orchid Vaghti.

His departure comes more than six weeks after four women came forward in the April 8 Chronicle story to share their detailed allegations of assault or abuse at the hands of Foppoli in encounters from 2003 to 2019.

Within days, two more women would come forward, including Lemus, who accused Foppoli of drugging her on two occasions in 2020 in order to facilitate sex without her consent.

Lemus and her fellow Town Council incumbents were at the leading edge of the campaign calling on Foppoli to resign — a request he rejected, conceding a week later only that he would be “stepping back” from his official duties.

Even Wednesday, Foppoli briefly attended the regular Town Council in a bid to maintain his post by complying with state law governing attendance by elected officials.

On Friday, all was quiet outside Windsor Town Hall, as word of Foppoli’s resignation slowly spread. And by several accounts at the Town Green, the resignation came none too soon.

“My family and I, we’re relieved to see this sort of blight on our wonderful community is over,” said Ed Collins, 41 and a Windsor resident of four years.

He added “It’s horrible. Survivors of sex abuse, their lives will never be the same.”

Lorraine Martinez, 65, said the controversy “caught my attention 100 percent” and said she was glad the mayor decided to resign.

“I think that’s wonderful. It’s the best news I heard today,” said Martinez, a resident since 2011.

She praised Foppoli for his leadership during recent wildfires but said she was dismayed by the allegations and surprised by the number of women involved.

“It’s too much for a town to bear,” Martinez said.

Zahner, on the Recall Foppoli website, wrote Friday of his gratitude for “the thousands of Windsor and Sonoma County residents who have supported this effort” and sought support for “the brave women who came forward, many in the face of malicious attempts to suppress their stories, and detailed the allegations that shocked and disgusted the residents of the family town that is Windsor.”

He also wrote that those who had to speak out also needed and deserved support.

Councilwoman Rosa Reynoza, who was elected to office during a special May 4 election to fill the seat Foppoli left vacant when he was elected mayor last fall, took note of the fact that he broke the news of Abraham’s allegation on his own by referencing it in his resignation. She rued that a new accusation was what it took to spur his decision.

“It’s just sad that it had to take another allegation for him to finally resign,” Reynoza said, ”but I’m very glad that he’s resigning and will save the town a lot of money from having to hold a recall election. I’m ready for our town to move forward and heal.“

The Sonoma County Elections Office has said the recall vote could have cost the town $28,000 to $85,000.

Foppoli’s actions and his initial refusal to leave office brought “incredible pain and trauma” to the victims, said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg.

“It’s about time Dominic Foppoli did the right thing and resigned,” he said. “...We need the justice system to hold him accountable for his egregious actions.”

Salmon, the Windsor vice mayor, said the council was hoping to seat Reynoza on June 2, assuming the May 4 election results were certified in time, and said he understood they would have 60 days to fill the post that would then be vacated by Foppoli — either by appointment of an existing council member or by special election.

He proposed backfilling any vacant council seat by appointing the May 4 runner-up, rather than endure further uncertainty and election expense.

That option would favor Oscar Chavez, who earned 22 more votes than third-place finisher Jeffrey Leasure, would find his way onto the council.

But Salmon said council members would decide how to proceed free from “a cloud from over our head (that) has been lifted.”

“I feel a lot of relief,” he said of Foppoli’s departure. “Today has been kind of a happy day.”

Staff Writer Andrew Graham contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been revised to clarify the timing of the alleged sexual assault reported by Farrah Abraham involving Dominic Foppoli.

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