A California winery partly owned by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) was sued in 2016 after an employee revealed illicit drug use, escorts, and sexual harassment during a charity pleasure cruise.
Alene Anase claimed in her lawsuit against Alpha Omega Winery that what she thought would be a typical gig serving wine turned out to be something altogether different.
The guests aboard the yacht that night — described in her 2016lawsuit 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.
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."
Stranded on the water and unable to leave the party, Anase said she called the winery for help and was told by a higher-up employee simply to “lie low” in an effort to avoid further harassment.
Court documents indicated the men on the cruise were “important investors in Alpha” who won the trip during a charity fundraiser.
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 Bee reported that Anase and Alpha Omega settled in Napa County Superior Court for a undisclosed amount.
Alpha Omega’s director of communications, Kelly Carter, said Nunes was not involved with the cruise and has nothing to do with the company’s management:
"Rep. Devin Nunes is one of a few friends [owner Robin 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."
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.
Carter also indicated that Alpha Omega has changed its ways regarding the auctioning of the cruise, which has been offered numerous times as part of various charity fundraising packages.
"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.
Nunes’ office did not return a request for comment on the issue, and the Bee noted it remains unclear how much of Alpha Omega he congressman owns.
Nunes’ connection to the company drew scrutiny last year as well due to Alpha Omega’s selling of wine to Russian clients as Nunes headed an investigation into Russian election interference.