After COVID-19 public heath orders shut down his small martial arts academy, Orlando Banuelos took a job in mid-January as a guard for a new Santa Rosa-based company called Whitestar Security Group. With prior security experience, Banuelos quickly rose to supervisor, splitting his shifts between the Sebastopol Inn and Hotel Azura in Santa Rosa, hotels that Sonoma County had purchased and converted to homeless housing during the pandemic. The pay was good and Banuelos, 29, connected with both the people he was protecting and the company he worked for. "We did our job, we did it to the best of our ability, and we were getting thanked on a daily basis," he said. Banuelos had reason to be optimistic about his new gig. Less than a year old, Whitestar Security Group was growing rapidly under two young, well-connected business partners, Clayton Taylor and Brandon Rojas. One of their partners was Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli, an investor striking into new territory outside the wine and beer industries he has long operated in. Through relationships with the county's nonprofit homeless service providers, the new company quickly secured contracts in an increasingly lucrative California sector , as the state directed hundreds of millions of dollars towards local governments to house at-risk homeless people. Sonoma County and Santa Rosa spent over $30 million in 2020 on homeless housing, and many of their new sites needed full-time security. But the prospects for Whitestar Security Group have all but ended amid the scandal that has engulfed Foppoli after eight women leveled public allegations of sexual assault, abuse or misconduct. Foppoli has refused to step down despite widespread calls for his resignation. He faces threat of a recall election and is under investigation by local and state authorities. The fallout for Whitestar has included canceled contracts, severed business ties among the partners and at least 40 layoffs since early April. Banuelos was one of those who lost his job. "Everybody kept saying it was nothing we did wrong," Banuelos said. "If we did nothing wrong then why is everybody outside that Foppoli situation being affected?" Whitestar Security is now folding in its current form.
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