San Francisco Chronicle
Rose Fumoso was standing in her kitchenette in the Netherlands on Friday night, cooking dinner, when she opened her phone to a startling alert in a group chat. Dominic Foppoli had just announced his resignation as mayor of Windsor.
Fumoso, 22, said she felt a wave of relief. The man who she said sexually assaulted her less than two years ago, isolating and groping her while she was interning at a Sonoma County winery, was no longer in a position of power. And it was women like her who brought him down.
“I feel so much more peaceful now, even if it’s not the end of the story at all, because I think he still has to pay for his crimes,” Fumoso, a native of France, said in an interview Saturday. “I am sure the fight is not finished.”
Fumoso and several other women formed the group chat on the messaging service Signal so they could stay connected after a Chronicle investigation, published April 8, revealed Fumoso and three other women’s allegations of sexual assault against the politician and winemaker.
Foppoli, who turned 39 Saturday, denied the accusations, but since then, five more women have come forward with accounts of sexual assault or misconduct. Some, like Fumoso, are still considering whether to file reports with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, which is leading the local criminal investigation — underscoring how the scandal is still unfolding, despite Foppoli’s departure.
Windsor Town Council members must now fill the mayoral post as the small Wine Country town seeks to recover from a bruising six weeks dominated by the mounting revelations about Foppoli and his combative response to the women accusing him.
Questions remain, too, about whether town leaders failed to hold Foppoli accountable earlier. The Chronicle has reported that a woman reached out to Windsor officials in 2017, accusing Foppoli of sexual misconduct, but that Windsor’s top officials and police did not investigate, failing to uncover an accusation that Foppoli had sexually assaulted the woman in a hot tub at Christopher Creek Winery, the winery he co-owns north of town.
And a pair of separate criminal investigations are marching forward — one locally, one in Florida — seeking to hold the disgraced politician accountable for any illegal misconduct. Potential criminal cases or civil lawsuits could stretch on for many months.
“We still investigate any allegation of a crime, regardless” of the resignation, said Sgt. Juan Valencia, a spokesperson for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. He expects the case to “take some time. … We want to be thorough, (to) turn over every rock to make sure we don’t miss anything.”
Foppoli’s departure capped an extraordinary, tension-filled six weeks for Windsor and Sonoma County.
Though Foppoli had widely been viewed as a rising star in local politics and helped elevate Windsor as a tourist destination, elected officials around Sonoma County uniformly demanded his ouster after the women came forward. Joining the calls was Foppoli’s older brother, who forced his sibling out as CEO of Christopher Creek Winery. Still, the mayor refused to resign.
Even as more women came forward, a Washington lobbyist representing Foppoli threatened to release a “sex tape” of Windsor Town Council Member Esther Lemus, who had herself accused Foppoli of sexual abuse. Lemus, fearing the purported video depicted an assault, filed a police report and sent Foppoli a cease-and-desist letter.
It was another investigation by The Chronicle that caused Foppoli to change course. The newspaper learned this past week of a concurrent criminal investigation in Palm Beach, Fla., into allegations that the mayor had sexually assaulted a former reality TV star there in March.
Hours after The Chronicle contacted Foppoli about the ninth accuser, Farrah Abraham, who filed a police report on April 2, Foppoli released a statement denying he had engaged in “any non-consensual sexual acts with any woman.” But he said that “stepping down is the best way to ensure that Windsor flourishes, unimpeded by the unfortunate distraction these exploitative allegations will cause.”
“I do not want undue national attention to have a negative impact on the Windsor community because of lawful, but poor choices, I have made in the recent past,” Foppoli said in his resignation letter.
In all, the allegations against Foppoli now include groping, nonconsensual oral copulation and rape, and stretch from 2002 through 2021. Two women, Fumoso and Lemus, said they believe they also were slipped drugs at Foppoli’s Christopher Creek Winery that led them to suffer memory loss, though they do not know how or by whom.
Town Council Member Debora Fudge said she found out about Foppoli’s resignation only through his statement to the media. Although Foppoli’s attorney has said he shared his letter with the town on Friday, Windsor officials said they were waiting for official notice.
“It was not the proper way to do it, so I see it as a game that Dominic is playing, a sick game,” Fudge, a former ally and mentor to Foppoli, said in an interview. “But at least he resigned.”
Fudge said she had not known about the investigation in Palm Beach. “You would expect that the town would have been notified of that,” she said, “but as far as I’m aware, no one knew.”
As the criminal investigations continue, Windsor leaders said, they will move forward with a proposal to eliminate the elected mayor position entirely.
The Town Council formally voted to demand Foppoli’s resignation last month, but because he was elected to his seat last year, they could not forcibly remove him. Fudge said the town will look to revert to the system it had in years past, in which council members appoint someone from that body as mayor each year, to avoid a similar situation in the future.
In the meantime, Town Manager Ken MacNab said, the council has several options for filling the mayoral seat. It could appoint a council member or a member of the public to serve as mayor for the remainder of Foppoli’s term, which ends in November 2022. They could also hold a special election, which would cost the town $50,000 to $80,000.
If the council decides to appoint a council member, MacNab said, it could then appoint a member of the public to the open seat or hold a special election for that position.
Vice Mayor Sam Salmon called Foppoli’s sudden departure a “weight lifted off” the town and said he remained “hopeful that these next steps to fill these vacant seats will be a smooth process.”
Rosa Reynoza, an administrative assistant with Fetzer Vineyards in Hopland, won the town’s special election for a different open council seat on May 4, and is expected to officially join the council in June. At that point, Salmon said, the four council members will decide which avenue to pursue to fill the town’s top post.
The Windsor residents behind an effort to recall Foppoli are now waiting for the town to officially announce that Foppoli has resigned before dismantling, said Willow Ramsay, co-founder of the United Residents for Recalling Foppoli Committee.
The funds raised by the recall team, Ramsay said, will be donated to an organization focused on helping survivors of sexual assault. Officials with the recall declined to disclose how much money they had raised.
Ramsay said she had heard rumors about Foppoli’s behavior for years and had witnessed some allegedly inappropriate behavior herself.
Although the recall effort may now be unnecessary, she said, she is committed to helping with the criminal investigations in any way she can. “When I heard he resigned I jumped for joy, but then quickly got back to work,” she said. “Until he’s in jail and all the women have spoken out, I won’t stop.”
For Sophia Williams, one of Foppoli’s original accusers, his decision to resign was a first step in a reckoning that should have happened long ago.
Williams, who told The Chronicle that Foppoli assaulted her in 2006 during his first campaign for Town Council, said she also learned of his resignation through an alert in the group chat with Fumoso and the other women, who had not known each other before the newspaper’s investigation.
As more than 100 messages overwhelmed her inbox, Williams said she was shocked but pleased.
“When I told my story I thought it would just get swept under the rug and that would be the end of it,” she said. “I didn’t realize how many other women there were and thought I was alone in my experience, so I never expected this to actually lead to something.”
Williams added that “criminal charges need to happen.”
Another of the original accusers, a woman who told The Chronicle that Foppoli raped her twice in 2004, when she was 18, said the news of Foppoli resigning was “a lot to take in.”
“I never imagined this outcome would be the end to my nightmare,” said the woman, who has asked that her name be withheld. “I always thought I would carry this scar privately for the rest of my life.”
The woman, now 35, said she decided to come forward with her story because she could not stand seeing Foppoli rise in the political ranks of a town that she loved, and where she and her husband decided to raise their family.
“When I started down this path, it was solely with the goal to see him removed from a position of trust and power,” the woman said.
But she echoed the other women, saying justice must still be served. She said she will be following the police investigations and other measures to hold the mayor accountable.
“It’s time for him to realize his ‘poor choices’ have grave consequences,” she said, “and that simply resigning as mayor is not enough.”
San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Julie Johnson contributed to this report.
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