SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — A widening scandal involving sexual assault accusations against Windsor Mayor Dominic Fopppoli and his own counter-accusations has led to the Sonoma County District Attorney to recuse her office from investigating the allegations against Foppoli.
District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced Monday her office would have a conflict of interest in the investigation after Deputy District Attorney Ester Lemus and Foppoli’s fellow councilmember became the sixth woman to accuse him of sexual assault, saying she was raped and sodomized after being given a date-rape drug by Foppoli.
Foppoli, who denies the multiple allegations against him, is now accusing Lemus of sexual misconduct, telling the Press Democrat that Lemus coerced him into a “sexual situation” at a government conference, then threatened his political career if he exposed her.
“It’s classic abusive behavior,” said Esther Lemus’s attorney Traci Carrillo. “It’s, unfortunately, not surprising to me. I’ve seen it in the criminal justice system where people deflect and come out and attack.”
Following the previous explosive allegations by five other women against Foppoli, originally reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, eight local mayors signed a letter demanding his resignation and the League of California Cities has stripped him of his leadership post.
Local congressmen Jarred Huffman and Mike Thompson have also called for his Foppoli to step down.
Ravitch said in a statement her office was in the process of determining what steps to take following the original accusations and had already put out a message asking any victim to contact her office when she learned of Lemus’s accusation.
“Over the weekend I became aware of allegations made by a member of my office that made clear to me that my office would have a conflict of interest proceeding with any further investigation, or potential subsequent prosecution of charges related to the allegations,” said Ravitch. “As such, I contacted the Attorney General’s office to share my concerns. I was advised this morning by that agency that they will immediately assume the responsibilities of reviewing these incidents, and if appropriate, charging and prosecuting any relevant violations of the law.”
Ravitch urged anyone who may be a victim of sexual assault to reach out to law enforcement, or the Family Justice Center Sonoma County to access services.
Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said his office has opened an investigation into the alleged events and present its findings to the state attorney general for review and potential prosecution.
“This would be a collaborative process between the Sheriff’s Office and the State AG to ensure we put forward a complete and thorough investigation,” Essick told KPIX 5 in an email. “The goal being that the State AG has all of the necessary information to make an informed decision about prosecution.”
Foppoli, who’s widely known as the “Prince of Wine Country,” was removed from his role as CEO of Christopher Creek Winery in Healdsburg. His brother, Joe Foppoli, met with demonstrators the winery Sunday and said he would be taking over his brother’s position.
“Essentially Dominic is no longer a part of Christopher Creek, he is not here,” Joe Foppoli said. “He will not be one of the owners. He is no longer an employee of Christopher Creek … I asked him to step down and, yes, he agreed.”
Joe Foppoli also called for his brother to resign as Windsor’s mayor.
“I was not aware of anything that’s going or has gone on in the past allegedly,” Joe Foppoli said. “While I won’t comment on the on-going investigation I believe our elected officials should be held to higher moral standards. For that reason I feel my brother, Dominic, should step down as mayor of Windsor.”
The Town of Windsor announced it will hold a special meeting Wednesday to consider demanding that Foppoli resign. Meanwhile, a citizens’ committee on Monday began a process of forcing Foppoli out in a recall vote if he continues his refusal to resign.
“There’s still a chance for him to do the right thing and resign,” said Tim Zahner, Chairman of the Recall Foppoli Campaign. “But if he doesn’t do that we have a very large coalition of residents who are ready to remove him from office.”
Once a notice of intent to recall is filed, the committee will have 120 days to gather enough signatures from registered voters for it to qualify for the ballot.