.Sonoma Valley Real Estate Empire Crumbles

A name you’ve probably been seeing in local headlines a lot lately: Ken Mattson. He’s a real-estate mogul who has built a small empire in the Sonoma Valley area southeast of Santa Rosa, buying up more than 100 properties worth a quarter billion — and now, this empire, propped up by a labyrinth of LLCs, is starting to crumble. Up to now, the main controversy following this guy around has been accusations from community activists that he’s letting many of his properties, including some pretty iconic local spots, fall into blight and disrepair, with no plans to rehab them. These activists even formed a group in 2022 called Wake Up Sonoma. “Shuttered businesses, chained-link fences and empty lots now litter the valley,” they said in an explainer video posted last summer. “The future health of our local small businesses and the fabric of our community are at risk.” So a bunch of local journalists starting sniffing around, too. But everything really imploded earlier this spring, when Mattson’s own business partner, Tim LeFever, reportedly tattled on him to federal regulators, claiming he was stashing their firm’s money in his personal bank accounts and otherwise being shady and screwing over investors. In statements to the press, Mattson has denied doing anything wrong and blamed LeFever for the mess. But for what it’s worth, it was Mattson’s home that the FBI raided a few weeks ago. More on the anatomy of the crumble, via the Press Democrat: “In March, the Sonoma Index-Tribune reported that a handful of Mattson’s 100-plus properties in Sonoma Valley faced at least $1.2 million in liens and back taxes. Mattson stepped down as CEO of the LeFever Mattson company in April. And [in May], Sonoma County sued KS Mattson Partners, a limited partnership Mattson controls, over a pair of perpetually under-construction homes at 70 and 74 Moon Mountain, registered as four separate parcels, that have served as the symbols of the neglect his sharpest critics say he has imposed on the valley.” Meanwhile, casualties have included 7-year-old local donut shop Dirty Girl Donuts — which was reportedly backed by Mattson, and lives in one of his properties along Broadway Avenue in Sonoma — and a nearly half-century-old classic car restoration business around 30 miles east in the town of Fairfield. “Specialty Sales Classics, which also had lots in Pleasanton and Benicia that were shut down, was owned by Ken Mattson, whose name first appeared on the company’s incorporation documents in 2011,” the PD reports. “The company now takes its place alongside other Mattson-controlled real estate holdings, investment funds and business ventures that are being shut down.” Amid this chaos, an intriguing new character has entered stage left: a young, redheaded Bay Area tech entrepreneur named Chris Fanini. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday: “Embattled Sonoma real estate developer Kenneth Mattson has sold off more than a dozen properties in Sonoma — including two buildings that house well-known businesses — to Chris Fanini, a San Francisco software developer and venture capitalist. Anidel Hospitality, a real estate company that Fanini owns, announced this month had purchased the Sonoma Cheese Factory and Sonoma’s Best Modern Mercantile, two beloved local Sonoma mainstays. A Fanini spokesperson also confirmed that Fanini had bought 11 other properties through ‘I Heart Sonoma LLC,’ another company he controls. ‘Sonoma holds a special place in my heart,’ Fanini said in a news release accompanying the announcement. ‘It’s a vibrant community that my family and I have long considered our home away from home.'” Time will tell if he’s the angel we need or just the devil we don’t know yet! (Source: Press Democrat & Press Democrat & Press Democrat & Press Democrat & Press Democrat & Wake Up Sonoma & Dirty Girl Donuts via Instagram & North Bay Business Journal & SF Chronicle & SF Chronicle & SF Chronicle)

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