Robert M. Dahl, a 1986 Osseo High School graduate-turned-California vintner and the suspect in a Napa Valley murder-suicide, had long been guilty of writing checks with his mouth that his ass couldn't cash.
According to friends and business acquaintances, the 47-year-old married father of three was a smooth-talking chaser of dollar-sign daydreams who was good at making the sale, but perpetually failed at executing the enterprise.
Dahl's scorched-earth track record of botched business deals and legal issues that started in Minnesota finally culminated this past Monday morning when he put a .22-caliber handgun to his head and pulled the trigger.
With SWAT teams from the Napa County Sheriff's Office and Napa Police closing in, Dahl's suicide took place on a dirt road in the heart of wine country, only minutes after he allegedly murdered 48-year-old Emad Tawfilis, a former business associate. Tawfilis had filed a lawsuit against him last summer, claiming Dahl had misled him into investing $1.2 million in a defunct company.
To those who had dealings with him, Dahl's good intentions and big heart were chronically trumped by fiscal ambitions that always seemed to land him in trouble.
"He was a good guy. He really was and I want people to know that," says a Dahl friend in Minnesota, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of respect for the family. "Deep down I think he always meant well when he had these big business ideas that were going to make him rich and a success, and he could always talk the game to back it up. If he did have a fault, I'd say he was more in love with the outcome than the actual process of getting there."
Dahl arrived in California roughly four years ago. He told people he had been a successful entrepreneur who started a company manufacturing eco-friendly cleaning products and turned it into a juggernaut. To his new neighbors in wine country, Dahl claimed he sold Duraban Internation, then moved his family west in search of new, sexier entrepreneurial challenges beneath blue skies and better winters.
He was an American success story, as he told it. But public records show an inglorious truth.
According to court records in Minnesota, Dahl left for California perhaps to erase personal history and start anew.
Among the numerous lawsuits attached to his name are many for bad debt.
In 2003, Dahl was sued by a credit union for $54,000. That same year a bank filed suit, claiming Dahl owed $1,200, as did Ford Motor Credit, whose suit stated Dahl was in arrears for $8,700.
Two years later, Dahl and his wife were served with eviction papers by Larson Properties. In 2009, the couple was sued by Anchor, Dock & Lift.
Dahl had a criminal record that points to money issues too.
He pleaded guilty in 1991 to theft of more than $2,500. His 15-month sentence was stayed. Instead, he served three months in the Hennepin County Workhouse. Dahl was placed on probation for 10 years and was ordered to pay restitution as well as undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
Steven Lodge, an Anoka attorney, represented people who planned to buy Duraban from Dahl in 2009. According to Lodge, the seller-financed deal fell apart after Dahl's assertions about his proprietary cleaning products were discovered to be false.
According to records with the Minnesota Secretary of State, Duraban is still owned by Dahl's wife, Janelle.
"My impression of him was that he was a smart guy who thought he was always the smartest guy in the room, who didn't feel he needed to account for anything," says Lodge. "He liked to talk and knew enough about things to be arrogant, but when anyone challenged him on the issues, he didn't like that.
"In my experience with him, it appeared he was good at the big picture stuff, but not so much at the details. He defined the details as he went and let them go as he needed to, then got upset if anyone said anything about the way he was doing things."
Dahl appears to have employed the same M.O. in California.
In 2013, Napa County ordered one of Dahl's ventures to stop producing wine and offering tastings because it lacked the necessary permit.
A month later, Napa Point Brewing, a gastropub and another one of Dahl's upstarts, was cited by the county for advertising music and live events when it also lacked the requisite paperwork.
Last fall, only one month after Tawfilis had filed a lawsuit claiming he'd been misled into investing $1.2 million into the Patio Company, another company under the control of the Osseo native, Napa County regulators came down on Dahl again.
This time the county alleged that Dahl Vineyards, formerly known as Napa Point Winery, didn't have a permit to conduct wine tastings.
Napa County won a $21,500 civil judgment in December.
Various news outlets have reported that the Dahl family resided in a 6,000-square-foot house with seven bathrooms located inside a gated community in Fairfield, California. Solano County Assessor records list no owner, but show the mansion is valued at around $1.4 million.
The home has been a rental property in recent years, according to various real estate web sites.
Judging by its past monthly rental price tag, it would appear to be right in Dahl's wheelhouse.
The property on Oak Ridge Ridge Drive has rented for just under $6,000 per month.
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