SodaCanyonRoad | DOJ Investigates Napa

DOJ Investigates Napa
Bill Hocker | Apr 24, 2024 on: Campaign 2024

Update 4/24/24
NVR 4/24/24: Former Napa County Farm Bureau chief reported documents stolen days prior to issuance of federal subpoena

Update 4/8/24 world-shaking story!
Daily Mail: 4/6/24: How a secretive FBI probe and mysterious suicide exposed toxic Napa Valley turf war - as 'eco-mob extremists' tell owners of America's world-famous wineries they want their vineyards to BURN

A story salacious enough for the British Tabloid Press! Of course they had to gin up the plot with some complete gaslighting about evil eco-terrorists. The pictures are great though.

Update 4/3/24
NVR 4/3/24: Napa County supervisors reveal their financial interests

Kellie Anderson points to an obvious issue in Sup. Pedroza's financial statements: in addition to being a supervisor, he has a side consulting business that includes Meritage, Farm Bureau and Pacaso (see here) among his clients and also has (even more) loans from George Altamura for business properties. (Meritage and Altamura are listed in the DOJ subpoena to the County. The Farm Bureau has received it's own subpoena). What service could he offer to these players in Napa's development landscape? Perhaps how to insure that their development plans and interests have as little resistance from county government as possible. Is it a conflict of interest? In appearance at the very least.

Update 3/5/24
NVR 3/5/24: Details on FBI search on Alfredo Pedroza's home

Update 3/4/24
NVR 3/4/24: FBI agents visited Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza's home in December
SR Press Democrat 3/4/24: FBI raided Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza’s Silverado Country Club home, records show (text version)

Update 3/3/24
SR Press Democrat 3/3/24: Tangled web of connections in DOJ’s investigation in Napa (text version)

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat has begun to speculate on the connections to Sup. Alfredo Pedroza that have only been hinted thus far, tying together all three of the supboenas sent to the county.

In fairness to Sup. Pedroza it must be noted that it is his job to be at the center of these development issues in the county. And as the scion of the Bill Dodd development machine, and the alpha male on the Board, it is to be expected that he would be very hands on in making them happen. And also, given the American form of political graft that is legalized as a "campaign contribution", it is to be expected that the people and organizations that hope to benefit financially from the supervisors' decisions would be heavy contributors to those politicians most likely to support their goals. Thus far, it is still the unethical, and maybe illegal, action of not disclosing his connection to Vinedos and of not recusing himself in consequence on the Walt Ranch votes that is the most incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing. But the reach of the DOJ involvement is Sup. Pedrozas affairs does point to something more substantial.

Update 2/23/24
NVR 2/23/24: Major funders of Farm Bureau's PAC named in federal subpoenas
SF Chronicle 2/23/24: How a Napa farming nonprofit became a political power broker" and got caught up in a federal investigation (text version)

This story has just become worthy of national attention. And the pieces are beginning to fit together. Pedroza's (and Gregory's) decision to drop out of politics. The large number of seemingly unrelated names on the subpoena list. Ryan Klobas' suicide.

It is still unclear what criminality the DOJ is looking for. Did the PAC coordinate illegally with candidates? If so would they be so overt about it? With so many subpoenas yet to see the light of day there are, no doubt, many revelations yet to come. What's interesting is that this is coming out right in the middle of voting for Supervisors, and the appearance is that two of candidates running have taken funds from a PAC under investigation.

Both of the other subpoenas for county records, about the airport grand jury report and the Clover Flat landfill antitrust issues involve negotiations with the supervisors over the expansion of the facilities with money to be made by new developers and operators. How might these projects fit into a campaign finance inquiry? And will there be a Minh Tran connection? (Aparently not).

Update 2/21/24
NVR 2/21/24: Federal subpoena issued to Napa County Farm Bureau's political action committee
SR Press Democrat 2/21/24: DOJ targeted info about Napa County Farm Bureau’s PAC in investigation; others subpoenaed were donors

As noted below, the "subpoena with 40 names" sent to the county may have been just one of 160 subpoenas sent out in the same investigation. The subpoena sent to the Farm Bureau could be another. According to the Press Democrat, some of the "40 names" are big donors to the Farm Bureau's PAC, the Fund to Protect Napa Valley Agriculture. The suicide of the Farm Bureau's president Ryan Klobas in late January may, or may not, be a piece in this unfolding puzzle. He was hired in 2017 by the Farm Bureau to head its political operations as community opposition to deforestation of the watersheds for vineyards eroded support for the wine industry, and environmentalists began to challenge the industry on individual projects, in the Measure C initiative and in political campaigns. The Farm Bureau is currently supporting businessman Pete Mott in his campaign against environmentalist Amber Manfree in the race for County Supervisor.

Update 2/13/24
NVR 2/13/24: Napa County subpoenas raise plenty of questions

It is interesting, as Barry Eberling points out based on the USAO No., "2021R00859-160", that the investigation leading to this grand jury may have begun in 2021, before Napa citizens petitioned the California Fair Practices Commission! And as I have been told by an informed source, the 160 in the number might indicate this to be the 160th subpoena in this investigation, meaning a substantial investigation beyond just the county's involvement..

NVR 2/9/24: U.S. Department of Justice seeks Napa County records on airport, Clover Flat landfill, Vinedos (pdf version)

Press Democrat 2/9/24: Subpoenas show feds probing controversial Napa County land deal, airport redevelopment (pdf version)

PDF of Subpoena (with list of entities)

The California Fair Political Practices Comission hasn't been heard from since they agreed to look into Sup. Pedroza's potential conflict of interest in voting to approve Walt Ranch while buying the land next door and then hiding that fact from the public and the board. But someone has obviously spread the word, and the US Justice Dept thinks it worth looking into. The list of 40 entities that the county must provide documents for is extensive and may imply that they are seeking info on several issues. It does seem significant that Sup. Pedroza is not named, even though all of the other characters involved in the Vinedos Project are. It is a devilish fascination googling the names on the list and speculating what, if anything, links them.

The Subpoenea was sent out on Dec 14, 2023 so the county has had two months to dig up the massive number of documents requested (due Feb 14th). They have also been involved in other legal issues in the meantime, like preparation for the county's defense in the Hoopes assault on county policies. Despite my complaints about about the way the county planning staff often acts as part of the development team in confronting community opposition, they have also seemed sincere in striking a balance in the web of business-biased policies, development pressure and community pushback. I think they deserve more appreciation than they seem to be getting.