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FBI seeks information on several California wineries and their owners

Napa County officials were subpoenaed for information on prominant vintners and their companies

Dan Gooding
Tuesday 20 February 2024 23:52 GMT
Floodwaters rush through Montecito, California

Federal investigators have asked a California county for numerous records related to some of the region’s largest vineyards and their owners, but it remains unclear as to what they are actually investigating.

News of the subpoenas sent to Napa County broke earlier this month, with around 40 names, businesses and topics listed as the information the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation would like to receive.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, many of those listed have a connection in some way to Alfredo Pedroza - a local politician who was wrapped up in a controversial winery plan over the past decade or so.

Mr Pedroza, who is the Napa County Supervisor and is not named in the document, was caught up in a battle surrounding Walt Ranch and a proposal to turn the land into a vineyard. The controversy carried on for 17 years before proposals were abandoned in 2023, not long after approval.

Investigators asked for information from the county relating to multiple names in California wine, including Caymus, Hall, Hundred Acre, and Alpha Omega. There is not necessarily a requirement for the individual companies or people to respond and some told local outlets they had not been approached by authorities.

The owners of Hall, Craig and Kathryn Hall, purchased Walt Ranch in 2005 for $8m, according to The Chronicle. They wanted to redevelop the 2,300-acre patch of land into a vineyard, but environmentalists fought back and plans were in limbo for years.

In 2022, a connection was made with Mr Pedroza, whose father-in-law, Esteban Llamas, had acquired a financial stake in the property next to the ranch and could therefore receive a financial benefit from the redevelopment. Mr Llamas is also listed on the subpoena.

The Napa Valley Register, which originally obtained the subpoena, reported that no individuals have been accused of any wrongdoing but several had made donations to Mr Pedroza. Chuck Wagner, who owns Caymus and is also named on the list, has reportedly donated at least $14,800 to the politician’s campaigns over the past three years.

Two other subpoenas linked to the case relate to the redevelopment of the Napa Valley Airport and the Upper Valley Waste Management Agency.

The request asked for documents dating back to 1st January 2016, which was the year Pedroza was elected as Supervisor and also the year the Walt Ranch redevelopment was initially approved.

So far, Napa County has released some 170 records, most of which relate to the road projects around the planned vineyard.

Requests for comment from Napa County and the FBI went unanswered on Tuesday. A spokesperson for the County told The Chronicle that the authority was aware of the investigation and did not know any more than what was in the subpoena.

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