The Napa County Sheriff on Tuesday confirmed what many in wine country had already known: The two men killed in a rare display of violence at Dahl Vineyards were involved in a business deal gone sour.
Capt. Doug Pike identified the alleged shooter in Monday's murder-suicide as Robert Dahl, 47, of Fairfield and the man killed as Emad Rasmy Tawfilis, 48, of Los Gatos.
He said this is the first sheriff's homicide case this year, and last year, there were only four - none of them in Yountville, located in Napa County, an hour's drive north of San Francisco.
After reviewing evidence and interviewing witnesses, Pike said that investigators believe the men “were currently involved in some opposing civil litigation."
Dahl owned the vineyards and Tawfilis was an investor in the company, according to Dahl’s attorney. After a fight during the meeting, Dahl chased Tawfilis through the normally bucolic vineyards, Pike said, and "appeared to execute him" before killing himself in his SUV.
Dahl and Tawfilis' San Rafael-based investment firm, Lexington Street Investments, have been embroiled in legal battles over "usury, fraud and securities violations" since at least June 2014, as documented by Wine Executive News. Some of it revolved around Dahl's 1991 felony conviction in Minnesota for "theft by swindle," as documented in the courts there. Details of the conviction were not immediately available because the records are so old.
“This is out of character for both of them,” Kousha Berokim, a Beverly Hills attorney who represented Dahl told NBC Bay Area on Tuesday. “I don’t know what happened. Regardless, two men are dead. This is beyond shocking.”
As sheriff’s detectives laid it out, Dahl and Tawfilis were supposed to meet Monday at Dahl Vineyards at 6155 Solano Avenue for a possible settlement conference, without their attorneys. And during the meeting, Pike said, “something tragically went wrong.”
Brokim confirmed that Tawfilis had sued Dahl, claiming he defrauded him out of $1.2 million. But Berokim said that Dahl believed it was a “dispute over the true balance. My client believed in one balance. And the investor believed in another balance.”
Tawfilis' attorney, David Wiseblood of San Francisco, told NBC Bay Area a different version: His client loaned money to Dahl, who dissolved the company, transferred assets to two new companies and never paid up.
Stemming from all that, the two were set to meet Monday in San Francisco at Wiseblood's office for Monday, only if Dahl turned over five huge wine tanks and brought some financial records. Dahl, instead, asked for the meeting to be held at the vineyards, Wiseblood said, and Tawalis, went himself to Yountville, even though the tanks hadn't been delivered, because he had the "sadly misguided belief that Mr. Dahl had a modicum of good faith."
At the meeting, Wiseblood said that Dahl also did not provide the documents he had promised.
"I had a bad feeling," Wiseblood said when he said his client drove up to Yountville before the scheduled meeting that was supposed to have happened in his San Francisco office next week. "This was so unprecedented, and unnecessary."
Detectives say that after the 11 a.m. meeting began, a shooting occurred inside the winery building.
That's when Tawfilis started running through the vineyard with Dahl chasing him in a black 2014 Toyota SUV, Pike said.
As he was being chased, Tawfilis called 911 to say he had been shot and that “Robert Dahl” was coming after him in his truck and was trying to kill him, Pike said. As he was chasing Tawfilis, Pike said Dahl was firing repeatedly at Tawfilis with a .22 caliber semiautomatic handgun.
After making his way to Hoffman Lane and Solano Avenue, Tawfilis, now wounded, fell to the ground just before noon as Dahl exited his SUV with the handgun, walked up to him and “appeared to execute him” just as the deputies were arriving, Pike said.
Seeing the police nearby, Dahl then ran back to his SUV and fled the scene speeding away on State Route 29, with deputies in pursuit, Pike said.
A swarm of sheriff’s deputies, Napa police and teams in the sky from a California Highway Patrol helicopter continued to track Dahl. Eventually, Dahl crashed through a gate onto private property in a heavily wooded area. When SWAT teams finally found him, they saw that Dahl had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
According to Dahl’s business page, Dahl Vineyards gives a nod to Dahl’s Minnesota roots, where he “created a number of successful businesses.” He eventually came to wine country in California, his website states, where he started a winery and craft brewery. In 2013, he built his own wine country for his own brand that could reflect his “commitment, heritage and entrepreneurial spirit.”
Ali Khani, a friend and neighbor who lived near Tawfilis in Los Gatos, called him a "good man, a confidante," who was looking forward to starting a family. "I can't believe he's gone," Khani said.
NBC Bay Area's Marianne Favro contributed to this report.