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Defrocked Wine Country mayor sued on sexual assault claims

Seven women say that in addition to sexual assaults, Dominic Foppoli used a high-powered Washington lobbyist to badger them into silence.

(CN) — Dominic Foppoli, the former mayor of a California Wine Country city who resigned last year under a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations, was the subject of a lawsuit filed by seven women accusing him of sexual assault. 

The seven women, whose anonymity is protected in the complaint, say Foppoli used his clout as mayor of the Sonoma County town of Windsor and his connection to his family winery to lure women into lurid situations where he took advantage of them.

The lawsuit was filed in Sonoma County Superior Court on Monday.  

“Dominic Foppoli … is a sexual predator who continuously used his power, connections and alcohol to prey on dozens of women in Sonoma County,” the women say in their complaint. “Because of his power, connections and various other actions he or his agents took on his behalf, he was able to keep individual survivors silent.” 

The women say they were scared that if they made their complaints public, Foppoli would strive to ruin their reputations and/or careers and businesses. 

“Utimately after the survivors started to come forward, he and his agents tried to do just that: ruin their careers, businesses, families and their reputations,” they say in their complaint. 

Those efforts were successful in some cases, according to the complaint. 

Attempts to reach Foppoli by email for comment were unsuccessful, but the former mayor has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said the sexual encounters described in the press were consensual. 

He stepped down as mayor in 2021 amid calls for his resignation and a burgeoning recall effort. He also resigned as the chief executive of the Christopher Creek Winery, where at least four of the assaults are alleged to have occurred. 

“I have always and will always maintain that I did not engage in any nonconsensual sexual acts with any woman,” Foppoli wrote in a statement announcing his resignation. 

In all, 13 women have made accusations of sexual assault against Foppoli, including the seven that filed suit. 

Foppoli also faces an investigation by the California Attorney General’s Office, as one of his alleged victims works in the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office and local prosecutors recused themselves as a result. State Attorney General Rob Bonta has yet to decide whether to criminally indict the former mayor.  

That accuser also serves on the Windsor town council and reported Foppoli drugged and assaulted her on two occasions.

The scandal began after an investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle into claims by four women accusing Follopi of forcible kissing and unwanted groping after nights of drinking, mostly at the mayor’s family winery. 

One of the women says she was a 21-year-old intern at another winery when she met Follopi at a party at his winery. He asked to show her his car and instead drove her away to a secluded place, where he began kissing and groping her despite her protestations, she told the Chronicle. 

Another woman says she shared a cab home with Foppoli after a night of drinking and was surprised when the driver dropped them both off at Foppoli’s house. After promising her a separate bed, Foppoli jumped into bed with her and began groping her, she said. She escaped through a bathroom window and fled to a strange neighborhood, where she had a friend pick her up. 

A fourth woman says Foppoli forced her to perform oral sex at a conference in Reno in 2012 after a night of drinking that reduced her to a semiconscious and inebriated state. She says she was too intoxicated to consent. 

And 35-year-old woman who chose to remain anonymous says Foppoli raped her twice as they were breaking up when she was 18. 

None of the women reported the incidents immediately after they occurred. 

Many of the incidents detailed in the complaint involve drugging of wine that Foppoli produces during his interactions with the alleged victim. 

The Chronicle also investigated claims that Foppoli used a charity organization for young adults as a means of gaining access to certain sexual assault victims. Foppoli belonged to the club for 15 years before he was expelled last year after the Chronicle published their investigation. 

The complaint also says that after Foppoli was accused of sexual assault that he enlisted a longtime friend and Washington lobbyist, Robert Stryk, to help badger the alleged victims into silence. 

According to the complaint, Stryk told one of the victims that he would release sex tapes and other embarrassing private disclosures if she persisted in accusing Foppoli of sexual assault. 

“He specifically described releasing these ‘sex tapes’ as the ‘nuclear option’” the complaint states. 

In addition to sexual assault and battery, the women's claims include emotional distress, defamation, gender and domestic violence and violations of state civil rights law. They seek general, special and punitive damages and an order blocking Foppoli from releasing any images or recordings of them.

They are represented by Traci Carrillo and Nicole Jaffee of the firm Perry Johnson in Santa Rosa, California.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government

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