FREMONT -- A community college district trustee elected to represent Fremont has lived for more than a decade at his Livermore vineyard, apparently in violation of state election law.
Nick Nardolillo, who has served on the Ohlone College board of trustees since 1996, purchased the vineyard and adjoining house 11 years ago. He has listed it as his residence in numerous public documents and in several public statements, including on his Facebook and Twitter pages.
Yet, Nardolillo insists that he's a Fremont resident, even though he sold his Fremont home in 2005, and since has been renting a room in a friend's home where he is registered to vote, but can't recall the last night he spent there.
In Livermore, Nardolillo not only owns a house, he co-owns and operates White Crane Winery and The Wild Vine wine bar. In Fremont, he rents the room on Oak Street for $400 a month in free wine.
However, a resident of that home this week said that Nardolillo doesn't live there.
Nardolillo, 63, said he had stayed overnight at the Fremont residence at some point this year, but couldn't remember the date of his most recent stay.
"In my mind, my residence is Fremont," he said. "I vote in Fremont, I file taxes from Fremont, I do the board meetings in Fremont, all my charity events are in the Fremont area. I stay over there when I can."
Ohlone College trustees must live within district boundaries, which include Fremont, Newark and part of Union City, according to state law and college board policies.
When informed of the situation, board President Rich Watters said the college might need to investigate Nardolillo's residency.
"If there is evidence that strongly suggests that one of our trustees does not live in the area, then our college should definitely be looking into that," he said.
Ohlone President Gari Browning said she consulted the school's attorney in 2008 after learning of Nardolillo's Livermore address. However, Browning said she was advised that Ohlone had no obligation to investigate the matter and didn't refer it to the Registrar of Voters or the District Attorney's Office.
Nardolillo said he received assurances from Ohlone's previous president and from the Registrar of Voters when he sold his Fremont home in 2005 that he still would be eligible to serve on the college board if he rented a room in Fremont.
State law allows elected officials to maintain multiple residences. However they are allowed only one domicile, which must be in the district they serve. The domicile is the home where their residence is fixed, where they plan to remain and where they return to after being away.
There is considerable evidence from public records and interviews indicating that Nardolillo's residence has been fixed in Livermore since purchasing the vineyard in July 2000:
Nardolillo did provide 2008 and 2009 federal tax returns filed under the Fremont address, as well as his rental agreement at Oak Street, which did not require him to pay a security deposit. He said his Facebook and Twitter pages are used to market his Livermore winery and that he had all of his mail sent to his work in Livermore for convenience.
Should Nardolillo be found to have violated state election law, he could face felony charges for filing false election papers. Nardolillo, who this month has had a state lien filed against him for unpaid taxes and a default notice issued on a 2004 loan, also could lose his board seat, which includes a $3,500 annual stipend and more than $8,000 a year toward his medical insurance.
Alameda County prosecutors successfully prosecuted a candidate for election fraud last month.
James Karim Muhammad was convicted of six felonies in connection to his attempt to run for the AC Transit board of directors in 2008 and represent a district where he did not live. In 2007, then Berkeley Rent Board Commissioner Chris Kavanaugh was sentenced to four months in jail and fined more than $10,000 after he fought his eviction from a home in Oakland.
Nardolillo appears to be violating state law by serving on the Ohlone board while listing his Livermore address on his homeowners tax exemption and on his vehicle registration.
For voting purposes, when someone claims more than one residence, the home with the tax exemption (in Nardolillo's case, Livermore) is presumed to be the primary residence, according to state law. That wouldn't apply if Nardolillo had used a different residence on his driver's license, identification card or vehicle registration. But he said this week that he lists the Livermore address on those documents.
There are various criteria used in defining an elected official's domicile, said Ruthann Ziegler, a partner in the law firm of Meyers Nave, which represents public agencies. Evidence includes subjective factors such as where the official intended to make his home and objective factors such as voter registration and vehicle registration.
"Is a rental agreement sufficient evidence?" she said. "If the person lives there."
Nardolillo had tried his hand at several business ventures before teaming up with a partner to purchase the Livermore vineyard in 2000.
Once the deal closed, Nardolillo left his Fremont home and moved to the vineyard with former fiancee Wigren.
"That's where we lived; we were always there," she said.
Nardolillo ran unopposed in 2008, but his residency was an issue when he last ran for re-election in 2004. About the same time Nardolillo was telling reporters that he was a Fremont resident, he filed a lawsuit against his car insurance company as "an individual residing in the city of Livermore."
When the insurance company sought to move the case to Pleasanton citing that Nardolillo lived nearby in Livermore, his attorney confirmed the point in an August 2004 sworn statement. "Prior to the initiation of the underlying litigation, Mr. Nardolillo moved to the city of Livermore," he wrote in court papers.
Staff writer Rob Dennis contributed to this report. Contact Matthew Artz at 510-353-7002.