Thursday, March 19, 2015

Deadly sour grapes........

"He said that it was going to make him a millionaire," stated attorney Steven Lodge.

The murder-suicide on March 16 2015 in Napa Valley California had it's roots years before in the business dealings of Robert Dahl, 47 and his Minnesota roots.  On Monday, Dahl and a former investor, Emad Tawfilis were holding a conference at the Dahl winery property to try and settle their legal dispute regarding a 1.2 million dollar loan.  The two had met and were teleconferencing with Dahl's lawyer, Kousha Berokim, who reported that both parties sounded as though they were calm and interested in solving the matter in a civil way.

The meeting began at 11 am and they called for a break sometime after 11:30 am.  Then at about noontime, Tawfilis made a frantic call to 911 and told the dispatcher there that he had been shot and added that someone was coming after him.  Evidently, Dahl pulled a gun on Tawfilis in the office, shot him and Tawfilis ran from the office.  Dahl then got into his black SUV and drove after Tawfilis who was running through the vineyards to escape while Dahl continued to shoot at him.  It was then reported that by the time sheriffs had arrived at 11:49 am, he had shot him again, execution style in the head while they were watching.  Dahl then fled in his SUV from 6155 Solano Ave to Wall Rd where he went into thick woods off a dirt road.

A nearby witness reported hearing the vehicle crash through a metal gate and police began hunting for Dahl after they had set up a wide perimeter.  The police and canine joined the search for the suspect and within minutes they found him dead in his vehicle of a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head.  Dahl was reportedly armed with a .22 caliber handgun with a silencer during the attack.

Tawfilis had been trying to settle a dispute that involved his business Lexington Street Investments which had loaned Dahl's business Patio Wine Co $1.2 million dollars.  Tawfilis then found out that the company had been dissolved a month prior to the loan and he alleged that Dahl had used the money for his other businesses.  Tawfilis then sued Dahl for the return of his investment money and this month, a judge had issued an 18 count contempt order that included turning over equipment.  The two men had reportedly reached a settlement on the amount that Dahl would pay back but a meeting at Tawfilis's lawyer's office was cancelled on March 15 because Dahl had returned all of the agreed upon equipment.

Dahl was supposed to have turned over the location of fermenting tanks as well as produce certain paperwork for the meeting that included financial records.  Dahl was the one who chose to have the meeting moved to his own turf and it is suspected that he may have had this planned all along.  It was reported that Tawfilis was pushing hard for Dahl to pay up and Dahl interrupted the conference call meeting between the four by stating that he wanted to pay a different amount.  Dahl's lawyer then asked for the break of five minutes so that he could talk to his client separately.  It was after breaking the conference call that Dahl pulled the gun and the shooting had begun.

Robert Dahl's business problems began long before he had moved to the Napa Valley about four years ago.. Prior to that, Dahl had created the DuraBan Company which produced a product that would combat mold during construction.  The special product was touted as an anti-microbial that would prevent mold from forming during and after construction and he claimed that it would make him a millionaire.  He convinced quite a few people to invest a large amount of money into the company and the product but they soon discovered that there was nothing special about it.  They sued Dahl and he settled for an undisclosed sum and headed to California with his cash.

His record in Minnesota was filled with various evictions, collection cases and bankruptcy cases, all of which he has denied ever took place.  He had pleaded guilty to theft of over $2,500 in 1991 and served a 90 day jail sentence for that but managed to avoid a 15 month sentence.  It is thought be to be a larger case in which he was charged with theft by fraud but the details are not immediately available.  This would show though that Dahl had a poor track record before he even came to CA and brought in other investors.

When Robert Dahl showed up in the Napa Valley he made it a point to jump into the the wine business and wanted to play big from the start.  He and a friend from Minnesota, Phil Lutgen founded California Shiners in 2011 very soon after he had arrived in June of that year with his wife and three children.  The Napa based company purchases bulk wine, blends it and then bottles it for various customers with a majority of it being shipped to China.  His customers are the ones who brand the wine and sell it overseas and he was proud to state that the wine they bottle is a high quality product rather than some of the junk that is being bottled and shipped in this manner.

Dominic Foppoli had used California Shiners to bottle his wine after meeting Dahl at a trade show and in 2012, he partnered with Dahl and Lutgen to purchase Christopher Creek Winery in Healdsburg CA.  Fred and Pam Wasserman had owned and operated the winery for 15 years before deciding to enjoy retirement.  Foppoli and Dahl found that they had very different visions of what to do with Christopher Creek very quickly.  Dahl wanted to expand the 3,500 cases a year production into something very large while Foppoli wanted to keep it "as is" as it had been publicized during the sale.  Foppoli quietly negotiated a deal to buy out Dahl and Lutgen and in Feb 2013, the deal was closed.

Dahl and a partner then used those proceeds to open up Napa Point Brewing in a business park, leased a barn and the 7.5 acres of vineyards in Yountville that would someday become Dahl Vineyards.  He quickly renovated the barn on the property and had a winery with a tasting room.  At about this time he also was running Napa Point Winery out of the California Shiners bottling plant and was producing about 2,500 cases a year.

He claimed at the time of the opening of the brewhouse that he had dabbled a bit in the wine making industry but it wasn't for him so he sold out his share of that business.  He now planned to put his money into brewing beer which was his real passion.  Dahl and his partner Greg Knittle had hired on Denise Jones as their brewmaster and she had about twenty years experience in that field of work.

Dahl had plans to try and open a second brewhouse in the old Borreo building in town but that plan fell through.  Knittle stated that at one point the brewhouse and pub was losing $100,000 a month and finally shut it's doors in May of 2014.  By December of 2013, Dahl was in a tough spot with Napa County and was fighting several violations which included operating without a use permit and not receiving building permits for renovations that had been done to properties.  He stated that he operated California Shiners at the same location as Napa Point Winery and since Napa Point was the legal name for California Shiners that had some 150-200 labels registered as doing business as there, it was legally operating under the CS permits.

The court system was trying to sort out not only the situation of the loan to the Patio Wine Company but the business dealings of California Shiners, Dahl Vineyards, Napa Point Winery, Napa Point Brewing, Patio Wine Company and Vitas Vinifero Voodoo.  It had not yet ruled on the status of Christopher Creek Winery and it most likely will not be involved in any litigation since he had sold his stake in that company.

Dahl had been planning to open a second brewhouse and the partnership that already had money in escrow for it cooled to including Dahl very quickly.  They did not want to be included in his ongoing issues with the county as well as seeing a much more profitable deal with working with a well respected restaurateur.  It was about this time that Dahl had met with Tawfilis and arranged for the loan.  It was shortly after loaning Dahl the money that he found out that dahl had dissolved the LLC a month before the deal.  This made it impossible for the company to accept payments legally and Tawfilis wanted his money back.

Tawfilis had argued in court with documentation that Dahl had sold the bottling line that was used as the collateral for the loan to another individual.  Dahl had argued that he had done none of these things even though Tawfilis had filed with the court documents verifying the sale of the line, Dahl's past criminal history of theft and fraud and the paperwork documenting the filing to cancel the LLC for Patio.  The last straw seems to be the ruling by the court that Dahl had to now come up with proof as to why he should not be held in contempt of the various court orders for producing loan collateral, injunctions, protective orders and orders to comply.  Dahl evidently had even tried to claim that he did not understand what an asset was.

All this seems to sadly boil down to a very real and premeditated solution to end the pesky problem of repaying Tawfilis......... it looks as though he had laid a trap for his victim and carried it out at the vineyard on Monday.  Tragically, a very well respected and loved member of the wine community is now dead because Robert Dahl may have run out of money in what looks to be a huge financial shuffle he had been playing.
                                   copy of document Minnesota vs Robert Michael Dahl

Update March 19 2015:

Emad had gone to the meeting with Dahl alone and against the advice of his lawyer, David Wiseblood.  The easy going, level headed businessman had gone into business for himself after working several corporate jobs.  The police have stated that they are still sorting out what had happened on Monday that led to the conclusion no one had expected, least of all Emad.

The loan that he had given Dahl had included a red gym bag stuffed with $800,000 in cash and Dahl had reportedly bragged about it as well as passing out pictures of the bag.  The loan was to help finance the Patio Wine Company and Emad was to take 97.5 percent of the companies stock and assets as collateral for the loan.  He was also supposed to split the profits with Dahl from the wine that was sold as well.

Emad was told that Dahl needed the cash and that there would be a much larger return on his investment if it were made in cash.  Emad did deliver and it was not until last year that he discovered that the company had been dismantled.  It would be my guess that since he held almost all of the company's assets and would be able to take the physical plant's materials, it still left him with a lot to work on if the deal fell through.  He did not know that the money was being used to support Dahl's other ventures and it is my guess, that Dahl was also muddling the legal ground by using materials and the physical plant to back several other "companies."

Dahl had fallen behind on the loan repayment and I am certain that Emad with his background could see that he had been lied to about the original investment.  Dahl fought and dodged the legal actions of Emad, who was working hard through the courts to be repaid for the hefty loan he had made.  Dahl was losing the court battle and on March 13th, representatives of Emad were sent to retrieve five large tanks that were part of the loan collateral.  They had disappeared and the meeting to settle their differences was cancelled.

Monday morning Emad notified Wiseblood that he and Dahl had been texting and that they were going to meet that morning at the winery property.  Wiseblood states that he advised against it as well as stating that he should not go there alone.  Dahl did not have anything that he had promised, no paperwork with financial records, no agreement draft or any explanation as to where the assets were.  He did have a gun though and shot Emad, chased him through the vineyard with his SUV and in plain view of the arriving deputies, walked up to the fallen Emad and shot him execution style on the road where he collapsed.  The police report that they found the box for the .22 caliber handgun in the SUV as well as 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

Emad was not married and had no children but he was very well liked in his neighborhood.  Residents there state that he could often be seen out making improvements on his home with his pet labrador playing in the yard.  People have described Robert as a very charming, charismatic man who also had an aggressive and dark side to him.  He did not have good long term plans and did not tolerate people who did not back down.  He did not feel that the courts held sway over him as proven by his ignoring rules and he was not used to dealing with anyone who did not back down and walk away.  Emad was not going to let Dahl take advantage of him and that may be the only thing that triggered the murder.  It does look though as if Dahl had planned the shooting but maybe not his own death.  It is difficult to understand how he could have thought that he could kill Emad and get away with it or maybe he just felt he could frighten Emad into backing down and walking away from a huge chunk of money he was owed.

Update March 20 2015:

The coroner has identified Robert Dahl as the shooter in the murder-suicide that began at the Dahl winery.  What will not be so easy to identify is what if any money exists in the convoluted business dealings he had.  Dahl had been convicted in 1991 of felony grand theft, served only three months in jail and served 10 years of probation that ended in 2001.  Those charges were reported as Dahl having ripped off Best Buy twice and a girlfriend's father.  In 2003 Dahl was sued by a credit union for $54,000, Ford Motor credit for being $8,700 and a bank sued for $1,200 they claimed he owed them.  In 2005 they were served with eviction papers by Larson Properties and in 2009, he was sued by Anchor, Dock & Lift.

In 2009 Dahl was arranging to sell his start-up company DuraBan to a group of investors represented by Steve Lodge.  The seller financed deal fell apart when the product he claimed to have was found to not be all that it was sold to be.  Neighbors had reported that Dahl was often the one who was mixing up the product himself.  DuraBan is still listed as being owned by his wife Janelle.  Dahl packed up his family and moved west where it seems that he has continued his financial scams.

By 2013 Dahl was juggling court dates and court orders.  His Napa Point Brewing gastro pub had been cited by the court for not having the necessary permits for live music and events as well as one of his wine ventures not having permits for tastings or production.  He closed the doors on the brewery in May 2014 and in August 2014, Tawfilis had filed suit against him alleging fraud, breach of contract and other allegations.  Dahl countered that by replying that the interest rate Tawfilis was charging him was far too high.

Sometime in the fall of 2014, Napa Point Winery was taken to court for not having permits to conduct wine tastings and in December the court won a $21,500 judgement against him.  Napa Point Winery did not exist then since it had morphed into Dahl Vineyard at the same leased property.  He had moved Napa Point Winery from it's former location at Devlin Rd where it had been slapped by the courts in 2013 for not having the proper permits for producing and conducting wine tastings.

In Sept 2014 the county sued Dahl Vineyards for conducting wine tastings at the Yountville property without the proper permits.  There was also a complaint regarding the construction of a concrete pad, wine tanks and a wine storage structure that had been installed in the flood zone.   Dahl was also due in court in August 2015 to face charges for breaking his lease by failing to pay rent after Feb 2014 and then moving from Napa Point Winery from the Devlin Rd location in May 2014.

During the court proceedings against him from Tawfilis, it was alleged that Dahl had been selling off the wine inventory, brewing equipment from the now closed gastropub, wine making equipment and other collateral.  His former partner Greg Knittel stated in a court filing of Feb 26th that he had met Dahl at the Hess Construction storage site in American Canyon and the wine tanks and brewing equipment he had photographed there four days before were now missing.  He added that Dahl was loading brewing equipment onto trailers and moving it and when he confronted him about it, Dahl reportedly told him that he could do whatever he wanted with his property.

The next court date in the lawsuit was set for April 7th and that may have been why Emad was coaxed into meeting Dahl for some type of alleged settlement deal.  Dahl Vineyards continued to roll along as if nothing was wrong and continued to do business.  Dahl had joined the Yountville Chamber about six months ago and was set to be one of 30 vineyards participating in the upcoming Taste of Yountville.  He reportedly was an active member of the chamber since joining.

It seems as though it will take quite some time to sort out all of his possible swindles and business deals.

Update March 22 2015:

Dahl Vineyards is chained, locked and posted with an eviction notice that lists all of the lease violations against it.  Late in 2014 though, it was still a trolley stop for wine tastings where Sharon Wagner, the "assistant" to the Robert and Janelle, described how the couple came to Napa Valley and fell in love with the property that they purchased in 2013.  The problem is, Robert seemed to be running an ever changing wine "empire" that was built from smoke and mirrors.

He had claimed to come to Napa Valley with some $12 million that he got when he sold his DuraBan company and he created California Shiners.  The problem was, he only received about $500,00 from the failed sale and even his first venture ran into problems when a few clients claimed he was bottling poor quality wine.  Sharon explained to the tasting guests that Dahl knew that he would eventually purchase Chateau de Napa and he had begun in 2011 to purchase grapes and bottle wine in the Dahl name.  The property where both Dahl Vineyards and Napa Point Winery were based in late 2014 was not purchased though, it was still leased by Dahl.  When he applied for that lease, he had told the owners that he was making millions through his other businesses.

Knittle, another former partner had described how Dahl always seemed to be throwing money around.  He partnered with Dahl in the brewhouse that never became the hit they expected it to become.  It opened in Oct 2013 but by March 2014, Dahl had quit paying the rent.  It had been at $15,000 a month but was due to increase to $60,000 a month and the brewhouse closed it's doors May 2014.  Knittle also described how he and Dahl had gone on a trip to Oregon and Dahl and instead of waiting for repairs to be completed on an almost new motorcycle he already had, he bought another one for $42,000 for the trip.  He added that Dahl ended up buying a restored 1928 Ford Model T truck on the trip and it was parked out by the entrance of the vineyard.

Dahl was described as being very charismatic but his business deals seemed to crash quickly after he became very controlling and belligerent.  It seems as though he was very good at charming investors out of their money and then alienated them while the money they invested was siphoned off to support his lifestyle or ailing ventures.  As more is exposed about Dahl's various ventures it seems that there is less cash available and he may have already knew that he would not get out of the meeting alive.

Update March 25 2015:

The autopsy of Emad Tawfilis shows that he was struck by five gunshots in his attempt to escape Robert Dahl that day.  He had been shot four times while running and none of the shots, which included two to the body and two to the head would have been life threatening.  It was the final, execution style shot to the head that killed Emad.

The 911 calls and dispatch calls have been released to certain media and they show that Dahl shot Emad first in the office building.  Emad then fled the building and ran through the vineyards parallel to the driveway that runs to Highway 29.  He told dispatchers that he had already been hit and that Dahl was chasing him with his SUV and still firing at him.  The recording show that police had arrived at the location within four minutes of the initial 911 call.

The dispatch could hear additional gunfire in the background of the 911 call and Emad managed to keep running until he collapsed on Hoffman Lane.  The recording itself is horrifying and police have stated that they have held a stress debriefing session with a counselor for the officers involved because of it.  It was reported that with the open cellphone line, they could hear Emad pleading for help as Dahl chased him down.

They have declined to release the recordings to the public stating that they are exempt from release and the Tawfilis family is opposed to their release as well.

Update March 28 2015:

The fate of the numerous lawsuits that involved Dahl is unknown at the moment but will be sorted out in court eventually.  The gates to the vineyard are chained and locked for the moment and Dahl Vineyards is being evicted because he was behind on payments for the grapes which violated his lease.  The McVicar family owns the property that Dahl was leasing for his wine making business will take control of the property and the building as well as improvements that he had made while he was there.

At a hearing this past week for one of the lawsuits, the judge expressed shock after hearing of the murder-suicide.  Wiseblood suggested that the court appoint a receiver who could sell off the remaining assets that Dahl has including wine, beer and equipment in an effort to satisfy the lawsuit Tawfilis had.  He stated that even though Tawfilis is dead, his company still exists and is functioning.  Dahl's lawyer stated at the meeting that he is unsure of his status since Robert Dahl is dead and the judge decided to continue the case until April 10th.  She stated that she can hear the whole case then and it will also give both lawyers time to straighten out what and who they are responsible to.

It has been reported that a member of the McVicar family found an unsigned contract in one of the drawers at the Dahl Vineyards building after the investigators had left.  That eight page document supposedly has Tawfilis admit that he had falsely accused Dahl of fraud and added that Tawfilis would state that all those who spoke on his behalf had lied against Dahl.  Emad's lawyer, Wiseblood, stated that it could be something that dahl had drafted but it was not what the Tawfilis and Dahl had been discussing as a possible settlement.  A draft of a document that was described as more favorable to Tawfilis had also been found on top of a table in the winery but investigators are still investigating what role the two documents may have played in the events of that day.

The investigators are also trying to discover how Dahl, a convicted felony had managed to have a handgun and an illegal silencer in his possession.  Dahl evidently had major issues with showing people his financial books.  Wiseblood knew that Dahl was not going to have the financial paperwork that Tawfilis had requested so they could work on a possible settlement.  Knittel, Dahl's second largest investor in Napa Point Brewing, had been with him earlier.  He also contributed time and effort to help Dahl transform the plywood barn on the leased property into a small tasting and production facility.  He finished the work quickly and afterwards, Dahl ran afoul of authorities for not getting the needed permits.  Knittel had cut ties with the brewery investment after Dahl offered to sell his share of the business for $500,000 but again, had refused to show the books.  It almost seems as though Dahl was more busy pretending to be in the wine business and hiding a ponzi scheme.


Sf Chick said...

So was his wife complicit in all the chicanery and fraud? What about Red Velvet Wines? Was that a sham too? What did Janelle know and when did she know it?

Val said...

SF Chick, I do not find any concrete link for Red Velvet Wines as in they are not named specifically in any of the lawsuits. I do not know if it was bottled by California Shiners but if it was, it will just mean that the vineyard will find another company to bottle it for them. Janelle had not been named in any of the lawsuits either from what I can tell but I am sure that now that Robert is dead, she will have to answer a lot of questions including what you have asked. It would be difficult to not have any idea that money was disappearing faster than water in the desert and if she is complicit, it will come out in the investigation.

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