Napa Valley Winery Murder: A Cautionary Tale About Business Partnerships

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napa valley vineyard business partner murder
In 2015, a Napa Valley business partnership ended in tragedy. Its lessons about vetting a potential partner still hold today.
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Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

In March of 2015, Napa Valley police received a disturbing call from 48-year-old businessman and investor Emad Tawfilis, who said he’d been shot and was being chased through a vineyard.

The shooter was Tawfilis’ business partner, 47-year-old Robert Dahl. The two had a tumultuous professional relationship, with numerous lawsuits and allegations that had piled up over their business dealings in the years prior.

Tawfilis had met Dahl at his winery on the night of the shooting to try to settle one of those lawsuits. The negotiations turned violent and Dahl began firing his handgun at Tawfilis, who attempted to outrun his shooter. As deputies arrived in response to Tawfilis’s 911 call, Dahl appeared to execute his victim and subsequently fled the scene. Dahl was later discovered dead in his vehicle of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The fateful vineyard meeting between Dahl and Tawfilis has been brought back into the public eye, thanks to a recent “48 Hours” feature on this bizarre and tragic case. Its lesson still resonates years later: Always know who you’re going into business with.

Could Due Diligence Have Saved A Sour Business Deal – And A Life?

Investigations into Dahl revealed that this wasn’t his first business deal gone bad. According to those who knew him, Dahl “had a personality that provoked conflict,” and “rubbed people the wrong way.” He’d been convicted of theft and been involved in numerous investor disputes and legal battles before his dealings with Tawfilis.

Sometimes, obvious red flags like this that are discovered through a Google search or a background check. However, just like in dating, you need to rely on your intuition and common sense when judging whether someone will be a good match. That’s why it’s essential to conduct due diligence before you agree to invest in or start a business with someone.

Here are a few important things to look for when you’re vetting a potential business partner:

Financial stability. Dahl’s public records showed a history of bankruptcies, evictions, and collections cases. These are clear indicators of irresponsibility with money. Someone may be a smooth talker or a charmer, but their actions – particularly in regards to finances – speak louder than their words.

Legal history. Fraud or embezzlement charges, lawsuits, convictions of crimes, and other legal troubles are never a good sign.

Reputation and personality. One of Dahl’s former business partners told The Press Democrat that he had second thoughts about the arrangement due to Dahl’s ongoing feud with the county and his “growing reputation for being temperamental and difficult to deal with.” If others recognize that your partner has a problematic personality, it might be wise to call the deal off.

Even if everything in your business partner’s past checks out, it’s a good idea to develop situational awareness and stay alert to any changing circumstances. If anything starts to seem “off” about your business partner or the situation you’re in, it’s better to be safe than sorry and just walk away. You may lose out on a lucrative business opportunity, but you’re more likely to protect your money and yourself.

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