In 2015, Alene Anase was asked by her employer Alpha Omega Winery to serve guests as part of a charity cruise on the San Francisco Bay.
But what she expected to be a routine shift serving wine turned into a nightmare, according to court documents.
The guests aboard the yacht that night – described in her 2016 lawsuit as 25 of the Napa Valley-based winery’s top investors, all men – were openly using what appeared to be cocaine and “drawing straws” for which sex worker to hire, according to the lawsuit.
Alpha Omega, which boasts “world-class wines in a convivial setting,” settled with Anase for an undisclosed amount in Napa County Superior Court the same year. The winery is owned by Robin Baggett, a major benefactor of Cal Poly, and its investors include his friend Rep. Devin Nunes.
Anase alleges that on the Aug. 12, 2015 cruise she could hear sexual activity happening in the yacht’s bedrooms and witnessed men “fondling and suckling” sex workers’ breasts – some who appeared to be “too young to consent.” At least one of the several John Does listed as defendants allegedly suggested that Anase should also “provide services of a sexual nature.”
But she couldn’t just leave – she was on the water.
She called the winery seeking help, and a higher-up employee told her to “lie low” to avoid harassment, the lawsuit says.
When the cruise ended, the men “lined the prostitutes up on the deck of the yacht, reviewed out loud and in detail the sexual services performed and paid them in front of Plaintiff,” according to the lawsuit.
The cruise was auctioned off at a charity fundraiser, and the winning bidders aboard the yacht were “important investors in Alpha,” according to court documents.
Kelly Carter, director of communications for Alpha Omega, said the terms of the settlement remain confidential, and cast doubt on the allegations in the complaint. In an email, she distanced Nunes from the lawsuit.
“Rep. Devin Nunes is one of a few friends (Baggett) invited to invest in the winery in 2005. None of the investors has ever been involved with the management of the company. Robin is the sole managing partner and ultimate decision maker at Alpha Omega,” Carter said. “Robin has made a point to never mix politics with the business of Alpha Omega. Our business model is simple: grow great grapes, make great wine, hire great people and provide our customers with a great experience.”
Carter said no one aboard the yacht that night had any connection to the winery or its owners, and that the benefiting charity was outside of Napa Valley.
Nunes, whose back story often focuses on his time spent as a dairy farmer in the central San Joaquin Valley, sold his Tulare County farmland in 2006 and invested between $50,000 and $100,000 in Alpha Omega, which opened the same year.
The congressman, who represents Fresno and Tulare counties and is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, serves as a limited partner in the company, according to his latest financial disclosure forms.
Alpha Omega and Phase 2 Cellars, in San Luis Obispo, are listed as Nunes’ only assets, aside from a Bank of America savings account and copyright royalties for WND Books, a conservative publishing company.
Alpha Omega and Phase 2 Cellars are owned by Baggett, former general counsel for the Golden State Warriors and the namesake of the baseball stadium at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo – where he and Nunes graduated from. Carter described Baggett, who is originally from Salinas, and Nunes as friends.
Nunes’ office did not return requests for comment.
It’s unclear how much of Alpha Omega Nunes owns, if he was aware of the lawsuit or was affiliated with the fundraiser.
The Alpha Omega Foundation, the winery’s philanthropy arm, has raised nearly $1 million this year alone through auction lot donations benefiting charities in Napa, San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties, Carter said. The yacht has been offered numerous times as part of auction packages helping a variety of charities.
“Alpha Omega refined its policies for the charitable donation of the yacht immediately upon learning of the incident and before a lawsuit was filed. Since 2008, the USS Alpha Omega has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for various charities,” Carter said. “Through the Alpha Omega Foundation, the winery will continue to be involved in philanthropic endeavors and remains committed to helping others.”
Nunes is among more than 50 people who own a percentage of Alpha Omega, according to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. He reported he made between $2,501 and $5,000 from Alpha Omega in 2016.
Limited partners are only liable for the debts equal to their investment in the company, and typically have “little knowledge or participation in the activities of the partnership,” according to the California Tax Service Center.
While Nunes’ ties to Alpha Omega made national headlines last year because it was discovered the winery sold wine to Russian clients while the congressman was at the helm of a federal investigation of Russian meddling into the presidential election, there has been little mention of the lawsuit.
Winebusiness.com wrote about the suit in 2016 but did not mention Nunes.
Anase, of Walnut Creek, sued Alpha Omega for civil rights violations, intentional infliction of emotional distress and sexual harassment. She also sued for violation of fair employment laws, alleging that after the incident, Alpha Omega stopped assigning her shifts.
She did not return requests for comment. Her attorney, Sonya Smallets of San Francisco, declined to comment on the civil case.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day's top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter