Wine Country Mayor Steps Back but Won’t Resign Amid Sex Scandal

Six women have accused the formerly popular mayor of a well-heeled town in California’s wine country of sexual assault in recent weeks. 

An art installation in downtown Windsor, California. (Town of Windsor Facebook page via Courthouse News)

(CN) — Windsor, California, Mayor Dominic Foppoli said he will “step back from an active role” as leader of the small Sonoma County bedroom community located in the heart of California’s wine country. 

“As I have said so many times before, I have loved Windsor my whole life,” Foppoli said in a statement Friday. “Through prayer and in speaking with residents over the course of this week, it has become clear to me that the Town Council will not function at the level expected by its citizens if I remain actively involved, given the strong reaction to the allegations against me.”

Six women have accused Foppoli of sexual assault, including Esther Lemus who serves alongside Foppoli on the Town Council and also works as a prosecutor for Sonoma County. 

Foppoli, stopped short of resigning despite an increasing chorus demanding he do just that, while fervently denying the allegations. In fact, he has accused Lemus of sexually abusing and manipulating him. 

The embattled mayor appeared remotely at a special meeting this week where hundreds of Windsor residents called in, most urging him to resign. 

“Resign, you rapist, these allegations are credible, they’re multiple and they’ve been corroborated by lots of people,” said one woman during the meeting. 

Lemus did not attend the meeting, citing the trauma of the unfolding scandal, but did submit a statement to be read. 

“Given that I am a victim of sexual assault by Mayor Foppoli and am cooperating in a criminal investigation against him,” said Lemus in a statement read by the town manager on Wednesday, “this is very personal and traumatic for me. Therefore I shall not be in attendance.”

Deborah Fudge, another council member who served as a political mentor to Foppoli, urged him to resign as well, saying it’s what’s best for the town. 

“If you love Windsor as much as you say you always have, then you need to resign,” Fudge said Wednesday. “Resign so we can move on and begin the healing.”

The council has no power to fire the mayor, but there is a growing recall movement led by resident Tim Zahner. Zahner says he has collected signatures from more than 500 households. 

The California attorney general took over the investigation of Foppoli after Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch forwarded the claims of several women due to the conflict of interest involving Lemus, who works in her office. 

Foppoli said the investigation will vindicate him, but the scandal may be too much for him to withstand. 

“Everybody’s got their right to due process in a court of law but this is a political situation,” Sonoma County Supervisor Chris Coursey told KTUV

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. 

Rose Fumoso 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, Fumoso told the Chronicle. 

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

Sophia Williams 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, Williams said. She escaped through a bathroom window and fled to a strange neighborhood, where she had a friend pick her up. 

Allison Britton 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 but Foppoli went ahead regardless. 

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

Foppoli has denied the allegations, calling it a political hit job and citing “social machinations.” He pleaded with Windsor residents to allow him to continue and do his job. 

His brother, Joe Fopolli, said Dominic has been stripped of his co-management role at the family’s Christopher Creek Winery. 

Fopolli had been seen as an ascending political star who attracted outside investment to Windsor, historically a footnote in a region dominated by other wine tourism destinations like Healdsburg and Napa. But a criminal investigation and potential charges have clouded his immediate and long-term political future.

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