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Woman who sounded warning over Foppoli in 2017 email disputes that she told Windsor officials not to investigate her account

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

A woman who in 2017 had warned the Windsor Town Council about “predatory” behavior by now Mayor Dominic Foppoli said she was sexually assaulted by him in 2013 while a guest at his winery and challenged a recent assertion by Windsor officials that she did not want a law enforcement investigation, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Her 2017 email to Windsor Councilwoman Deb Fudge has served as the clearest indication to date that town officials had at least some reason to be concerned years ago about the mayor’s behavior toward women.

She described in that account a 2013 stay at Foppoli’s Christopher Creek Winery where she said that Foppoli, then a private citizen, had pushed alcohol on her friends — his guests at an on-site vacation home — pressured female employees to remove their underwear and wear togas and tried to remove a guest’s swimsuit without permission.

On Thursday, the woman added new, troubling details about Foppoli’s behavior, telling the Chronicle that when she and her friends were in the hot tub at the winery, Foppoli clapped to turn off the hot tub lights and thrust his erect penis into her hand. The alleged assault caused her emotional trauma that lasted years, she told the San Francisco newspaper.

The woman, who the newspaper identified only as “Jane,” said she did not include the sexual assault allegation in her original email to Fudge because she wanted to provide a document elected officials could share widely, the Chronicle reported. She also was concerned she would not be believed. “I felt like it had to be more about his character being flawed,” she said, according to the Chronicle.

The email writer, whose name is blacked out in Windsor records, told the newspaper she thought the overall picture of Foppoli’s alleged misconduct that night in 2013 would be sufficient.

One of the women who was on the trip submitted a complaint to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office corroborating much of the account of the 2013 encounter. Another corroboration came from Jane’s fiancee at the time.

The 2017 email to Windsor officials did not lead to a police investigation and was not provided to law enforcement until the current town manager said he received a new, separate warning about Foppoli’s behavior toward women in February 2020, The Press Democrat reported last week.

At an April 14 special meeting of the Windsor Town Council, Town Manager Ken MacNab, who took over in 2019, said town officials did not investigate the 2017 email at the time it came in because the writer had said she did not want a law enforcement investigation.

“She did not want charges filed or an investigation to take place,” MacNab said at the meeting.

But Jane, the author of the 2017 email, told the Chronicle otherwise. She recalled telling Fudge she did not intend to report the incident at the winery to law enforcement, but did not recall requesting town officials not to investigate it themselves, according to the newspaper’s Thursday report.

If law enforcement or town officials had contacted her about her 2017 email, she would have disclosed the sexual assault allegation to them, she told the Chronicle.

In February 2020, MacNab received an email from a Windsor resident who said Foppoli had been accused of rape by numerous women.

At that point, both emails were provided to Windsor Police Chief Ruben Martinez, who brought in a Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office investigator specializing in sexual assault to review the allegations. But law enforcement didn’t contact the author of either email.

Martinez and sheriff’s investigator “reviewed the letter and I think they just left it at that,” Assistant Sheriff Jim Naugle told The Press Democrat in an interview last week. Windsor contracts out with the sheriff for policing, so the chief is also an employee of the Sheriff’s Office.

That initial handling of prior warnings has been criticized by town residents and questioned by Karlene Navarro, who as director of the county’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach has oversight responsibilities over a range of Sheriff’s Office operations.

The message in the 2020 email was “a broad, but very serious allegation,” Navarro told The Press Democrat in an email last week.

“I think the best practice would have been for law enforcement to give the emailer a call to ask her about the information on which she was basing her statement,” Navarro wrote. “If she had personal knowledge of a rape or could connect law enforcement to a rape victim or witness, it should have been investigated.”

The author of that 2020 email, Patricia Wallace, also told the Chronicle that if law enforcement had contacted her, she would have pointed them toward posts on social media where she had learned of rape allegations against Foppoli. By February 2020, at least two of the women who publicly accused Foppoli of sexual assault this month had posted comments about their experiences on social media, the Chronicle reported. The Chronicle reported one of those comments named Foppoli.

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

Wallace declined to comment.

Fudge defended the town’s response in a Thursday interview. “We didn’t have this information that we have today in 2017 or even 2020,” she said. “We took the actions we felt needed to be taken internally, we followed all of the procedures.”

Jane told her she did not want to press charges, Fudge said, which she interpreted to mean there should not be a law enforcement investigation. “When someone doesn’t want to press charges the police have nothing to investigate,” Fudge said. The council had looked to its officials — two sets of city managers and city attorneys — to guide them in the matter and given their advice felt the council had operated properly, she said.

“We rely on the people that we hire to follow the law and pursue what needs to be pursued,” she said.

Fudge and then-Windsor Councilman Bruce Okrepkie previously told The Press Democrat that the 2017 email drove the Town Council to meet with Foppoli behind closed doors and confront him with the allegations. Fudge, Okrepkie and another former councilman Mark Millan, also said it drove them to deny Foppoli the opportunity to become the town’s appointed mayor late that year.

But the council allowed Foppoli to make a speech casting that decision as his own, and never publicly disclosed that in fact they did not support him because of serious allegations about his character. The Town Council selected him as mayor the following year and he has held the position since, with the support of Fudge and Okrepkie until only recently, when the wave of sexual assault allegations became public.

Again, Fudge said the council had no choice.

“It was a personnel matter and I was not in a position to release that,” she said.

Millan, however, who previously said he did not remember a closed-door meeting with Foppoli but trusted his colleague’s recollection, now said he did not believe such a meeting had ever occurred.

“There was no group or council discussion of this matter … that I recall,” Millan said in an email. He regretted the city’s handling of the matter, he said. “Our efforts fell short of our responsibility to the people whom we serve. Not only did we misjudge Dominic’s character, but we also failed to disclose that warning sign to the rest of the community.”

Foppoli has denied the public allegations made by at least six women who said he sexually assaulted them between 2003 and 2020. One of those women is fellow Windsor council member Esther Lemus.

Foppoli’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Foppoli is under criminal investigation being led by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and involving the state Attorney General’s Office. The wide and sustained calls for his resignation include all of his Town Council colleagues, all five members of the Board of Supervisors, all of the other mayors in the county, state lawmakers and the county’s two congressmen.

But Foppoli said late last week that he intends to stay and “step back” from an active role on the council for as long as he remains under investigation.

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

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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