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Windsor Town Council confronted Foppoli in 2017 over letter complaining of ’predatory’ behavior

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

Windsor’s Town Council met behind closed doors with Councilman Dominic Foppoli in 2017 to confront him over an email sent to Councilwoman Deb Fudge that accused Foppoli of sexual misconduct the writer characterized as “predatory,” according to Fudge and former councilman Bruce Okrepkie.

The 2017 email is so far the earliest and clearest public indication that Windsor government officials had some reason to be concerned years ago about allegations of Foppoli’s personal conduct, including troubling behavior toward women.

In a Tuesday statement, Windsor officials outlined their response to both the 2017 allegations and a freshly disclosed February 2020 email, in which a member of the public described Foppoli as “accused of rape” by more than one woman.

The 2017 email was reviewed by the city manager and city attorney at the time. Law enforcement does not appear to have been informed of the 2017 allegations until 2020, according to Tuesday’s statement from Town Manager Ken MacNab. After the town received the February 2020 complaint, the chief of the Windsor Police Department and an investigator with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office reviewed both emails. They determined that no criminal investigation was warranted, according to MacNab.

Still, the concern about Foppoli’s conduct was significant enough that it served to block him from an appointment to the mayor’s post in late 2017, according to Okrepkie and Mark Millan, another member of the council at that time. As vice mayor, Foppoli was in line for the seat — and he won it in the selection by council members a year later in 2018 and again in 2019 before claiming the post in the town’s first direct mayoral election last year.

Foppoli’s political rise came to a crashing halt last week, however, after a detailed investigative report in the San Francisco Chronicle about allegations put forward by four women who said Foppoli sexually assaulted them between 2003 and 2019.

None of those women filed police reports or took other legal action against Foppoli, a not uncommon circumstance in cases of sexual assault. The 2017 email, however, was part of the public record, and came to light in requests first made by the Chronicle and by The Press Democrat last week.

In it, an unidentified woman alleges she was a guest at Foppoli’s winery in June 2013, when Foppoli, not yet an elected official, invited himself to join her and her seven friends, who were staying at a vacation rental at the winery.

Foppoli brought two female employees who he forced to remove their underwear and wear togas, the email alleged. The writer also alleged that Foppoli filled up wine glasses unsolicited, and tried to remove a guest’s swimsuit.

Foppoli denied those allegations and others involving sexual assault made by at least six women, including Windsor Councilwoman Esther Lemus. On Saturday, she told The Press Democrat that Foppoli slipped her drugs that led to sexual assaults that she suspects involved him in February and August 2020.

Lemus, Fudge and Councilman Sam Salmon have all called on Foppoli to resign but he has said he is innocent and does not intend to leave office. A fifth council seat is vacant and is set to be filled in a special election next month.

Fudge has defended the steps she said she took in handling the 2017 complaint. She provided the email to Windsor’s city manager and attorney at the time, and the rest of the council was notified, she said in an April 9 statement. The manager and attorney performed their own investigation, Fudge said.

In a Monday interview, however, she shared for the first time that Foppoli was confronted in late 2017 in a closed-door council meeting about the complaint against him.

“He wasn’t elected then (in 2013) and there were no charges then,” Fudge said. “A government has limited purview. All four council members spoke with him and that was in closed session so I can’t talk about it.”

The allegations in the email led the council at the time to pass over Foppoli for mayor, Okrepkie and Millan said.

“We took it extremely seriously,” Okrepkie said, saying he did not believe he could elaborate on the confrontation because it was a closed-door session. The town attorney — who is no longer in that role — would have participated, he said.

“From that meeting we decided he would not become mayor,” he said.

Millan said he did not remember the closed-door meeting but believed his fellow council members from the time would recall it correctly. He did remember the 2017 complaint.

“At the time it was not clear the circumstances or the information we received,” he said. “But it didn’t sit well with any of us.”

The email to Fudge is dated Nov. 20, 2017. The council chose its new mayor in December. At that meeting, Foppoli said he had to focus on his reelection and a new charitable venture, according to a report from that time in the Windsor Times. Okrepkie was appointed instead.

A year later, Foppoli won the appointment from colleagues, with support from Okrepkie and Fudge. He did so again in 2019, prevailing over Lemus in a 3-2 vote. Salmon and Fudge supported his reappointment. Okrepkie backed Lemus.

In 2020, Foppoli won the first citywide election for a two-year mayoral post that he now refuses to give up under mounting calls for his resignation.

Millan, Okrepkie and Fudge said they had no indication of the nature of subsequent sexual assault allegations that have now been made public. They all have called for Foppoli to resign.

“This was the tip of an iceberg we didn’t see the bottom of,” Millan said. “I’m sure we would’ve made a different decision at that time.”

Foppoli is under a criminal investigation being led by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and involving the state Attorney General’s Office.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

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

Andrew Graham

Business enterprise and investigations, The Press Democrat 

I dig into businesses, utility companies and nonprofits to learn how their actions, or inactions, impact the lives of North Bay residents. I’m looking to dive deep into public utilities, labor struggles and real estate deals. I try to approach my work with the journalism axioms of giving voice to the voiceless, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable in mind.

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