If the fire roars there will be a quarrel in the famiily. —American proverb
Vince Sisco began his working life in Stockton where he and other members of his family ran bars and restaurants, most famously in the old Stockton Hotel. He enjoyed a certain success in the business early on and, by 1970 when he arrived in Mendocino County, Sisco was in his early 40's. He soon earned a reputation for deals whose wheels came off.
"The guy never quite had enough money to do what he wanted to do," one of many former business associates recalls. "He wanted to be successful in the restaurant business but he could never quite pull it off."
Sisco had worked hard all his life; his worst enemies concede that. But by the time the lean, chain-smoking, "hyper" businessman with the ill-fitting hair piece arrived in Mendocino County he was already in his forties and still using other people's money in pursuit of his dream to become the Toots Shor of the North Coast. A Ukiah man who remembers Sisco from the time described him as "Fredo, in the Godfather movie."
Always good at borrowing money, and even better at obtaining insurance, Sisco bought a house in Redwood Valley and opened up a trio of restaurants --The Pomo Inn, Del Vecchio's and The Lido.
It was at the Pomo Inn, the historic Victorian-like hotel in Hopland, now known as The Thatcher Inn, that Sisco was able to make the business connections which would serve him so well for the next two decades.
In the '70's the Pomo Inn was not the lovingly restored showcase hotel it is today; it was badly in need of a major makeover. Still, the old place had the gracious elegance of a bygone era, and through a combination of astute management and a quick face lift for the structure's facade, Sisco was able to turn the Pomo Inn's mahogany bar and comfortable ground floor into the place to be for Mendoland's movers and shakers. The gregarious Sisco recognized the advantage his well-healed clientele might offer him, and, to make sure he stayed close to their ample pocketbooks, Sisco founded the Cannibal Club, a men's social society whose members Sisco would tap over the years to keep his various Mendocino County restaurants afloat. The Pomo Inn is where the Cannibals gathered.
All Sisco's restaurants did well. He knew the food and drink business. In 1970, Sisco bought into Ukiah's famous Palace Hotel, parlaying his fresh successes with Del Vecchio's and the Lido, and the contacts he'd made through the Cannibal Club, into an attractive-enough credit reference to buy the Palace from a pair of East Indian immigrants named S.G. and Deviven Bhatka, although the crumbling Ukiah landmark was primarily the property of a respectable old Ukiah family by the name of Sandelin.
Sisco's purchase of the Palace occurred in September of 1970, but a month before he bought in he managed to borrow $15,000 from the D.O. Razi Investment Company using the Palace as collateral. Several times over the next few years, Sisco was able to borrow money on property he didn't own.
Sisco quickly resuscitated the Palace Hotel using the same formula which worked so well at the Pomo Inn, bringing the bar and restaurant back to life, complete with many of the bar's original fixtures, including a magnificent painting of Black Bart which had hung over the bar for a hundred years. (That painting and the more valuable fixtures disappeared two owners later. A man by the name of Ed Karsch absconded with everything of value from the Palace, including the hand-crafted stairway bannisters. In one go, Karsch robbed Ukiah of many of the artifacts of its history.)
There was an "accidental" fire at the Palace on November 26th, 1974. The cause was attributed to a spark from a cutting torch which was being used to remove the hotel's boiler after it had been red-tagged by Ukiah's building inspector. The spark managed to find its way from the boiler room to some cardboard boxes stored in the back of Empire Office Supply (later King's Office Supply) which was also housed on the hotel's ground floor. Sisco came out ahead on the insurance settlement, but was then sued by Empire Office Supply for the fire damage done to their store.
Downtown Ukiah in 1970 was desperate for a comfortable place to have a drink and enjoy a lunch or dinner; Sisco's rejuvenation of the Palace was widely applauded. The nearby County Courthouse supplied a lucrative customer base for the revived bar and restaurant. From the day Sisco opened its long-closed doors the Palace became a virtual Courthouse annex.
The busy bar and restaurant must have looked like a magic purse to the local money people who also ate and drank there. Sisco wasted no time loading the business with $280,000 of debt in three separate loans he magically negotiated in a mere 45 days. The man's ability to talk otherwise cautious bankers and investors out of money was truly remarkable.
There was another fire upstairs in the Palace Hotel on the 21st of September, 1978. The Ukiah Fire Department did a miraculous job in confining the blaze to one floor. The hotel part of the old building had become a sort of welfare shelter in a sweetheart public/private arrangement Sisco had arranged with the county's Department of Social Services.
A mentally disturbed man named Arnold J. Stein had piled up newspapers in the corner of room 75 and lit them. Sisco was not the legal owner of the Palace by then. Peter Wells, who still owns the successful Albion River Inn, was owner of record. But Sisco was owed mortgage money by Wells, and the Palace was failing. An effective fire would bail everyone out but, unfortunately for all concerned, the arsonist, if that's what he was, was incompetent. Stein was soon judged to be officially crazy, but there were rumors -- inevitable perhaps given Sisco's unique proximity to timely fires -- that Stein wasn't that crazy.
Sisco would have done very well indeed if the entire Palace Hotel structure -- nearly a square block of central Ukiah -- had gone up because, like many of the fires in his arson-punctuated business career, the ancient hotel, badly in need of expensive structural rehab, was worth more in ashes than it was up and running as a flea bag with a nice restaurant and bar on its ground floor, and a couple of paying businesses on its School Street side.
Sisco would seem to be perennially unlucky in his selection of Mendocino County arsonists. Unable to destroy the Palace at a profit large enough to fund his vision of himself as Mendocino County's Mr. Night Life, in 1977 Sisco sold the Palace Hotel to Peter Wells, an enterprising British immigrant, for some $400,000. Wells was the owner of record for only 90 days before he sold the Palace to Pat Colletto, now famous as the owner of the Star's restaurant chain and other upscale eateries; a louche figure named Fred Baker also had an interest in the place. Baker, at the time of his fleeting Palace venture was described by an acquaintance as a drug dealer and pimp.
Wells was briefly partners with Colletto and Baker but didn't make money on the Palace Hotel. Wells thought his partners' plans too ambitious for Ukiah and bailed out. Colletto and Baker managed to secure low interest Historic Preservation loans for the Palace, but rather than doing the structural repair work necessary to make the building's unreinforced masonry earthquake-safe, the SF entrepreneurs did a purely cosmetic make-over and pocketed most of the government-backed loan money, which they then used to fund more promising projects.
After World War II, the Palace Hotel turned a "profit" mainly through insurance and loan scams, and, in the case of Ed Karsch, the theft of the historic structure's contents for cash re-sale as antiques.
The ghostly old wreck of a hotel has been empty for more than ten years now, posing a serious danger to the downtown area in the event of a major earthquake. Wells emerged from the wreckage of the Palace with enough money to parlay it into a federal low-interest Community Development loan with which he scooped up the Albion River Inn, expanding it to where it is now among the most prosperous tourist stops on the Mendocino Coast. The decrepit old Palace lived on as a cash cow.
But with Vince Sisco, there was never quite enough money. Sisco tapped everyone he could for more and even installed a state-of-the-art hydroponic marijuana garden in his Redwood Valley home to boost his working capital. Still not enough.
How did Sisco, who'd only been in Mendocino County for a couple of years, manage to keep so many fiscal balls in the air? By kiting loans and real estate, it appears. Borrow on what you've got, or appear to have, to pay off, or make a payment or two, on the previously obtained loan or mortgage. Keep the payments on the more pressing debts somewhat current to give the appearance of solvency.
Sisco was able to get money from the Savings Bank, and other unwitting lenders, because prominent individuals--many of them members of Sisco's low-rent Rotary, the old boy's Cannibal Club--vouched for him. Moreover, the Ukiah establishment was eager to see the Palace up and running again because downtown Ukiah was dying.
The younger Ukiah entrepreneurs included young lawyers and bankers who became quite friendly with Sisco, as Mendocino County, by the middle 1970s, was awash in the white powder which made the young lions even more energetic if not more sensible. Sisco always had plenty of cocaine, and it was cocaine that brought low many promising young men and women up and down the Northcoast.
In 1976, Sisco, by then in a tense, mutually suspicious partnership in Ukiah's bunker-like Lido Restaurant with Ukiah attorney and former Ukiah High School football star, Patrick Finnegan, decided to branch out.
Sisco and Finnegan leased the lucrative Wharf restaurant in Fort Bragg's Noyo Harbor from the legendary Jim Cummings, a man who had seldom lost money in his multitude of enterprises and real estate holdings he ran out of his nondescript combination home and office down in the harbor. By the early 1970's, Cummings was into the bar and restaurant business himself, most notably a lively place called the Anchor Inn and, more successfully, a larger, tourist-oriented restaurant in the Noyo basin called The Wharf. Cummings leased the Anchor to a series of managers but was omnipresent at The Wharf. Cummings did a lot of cash business -- an awful lot.
The Anchor was known locally as "the roundhouse" because of its distinctive curved design. One of its more popular bartenders kept a big jar of pep pills behind the bar for her preferred customers, and the place did a big bar business -- live music weekends, lots of young people, lots of alcohol, and lots of chemicals to prolong the fun. The Anchor burned to the ground in 1975, well before the famous fires more than a decade later, and it wasn't until Sisco got Agostinos going up on the north cliff above the Noyo's mouth that the young and the restless had a night spot as lively as the Anchor. The eccentric Cummings didn't have insurance on the Anchor property and never got around to replacing the structure, although for years stacks of materials lay scattered around the charred site as if the much missed sin center down in the harbor would one day reappear for another round of good times.
The new boys in town, boys like Sisco and friends, couldn't help but see the odd business practices of many of Fort Bragg's old timers. Uninsured buildings? Cash transactions? A pliable city council? An eager city manager in the puppy-like Gary Milliman? To the sharpies from Stockton and Sacramento, Fort Bragg seemed like Sutter's Mill the day before gold was discovered.
Sisco's Ukiah partner, the tragic Finnegan, would crash and burn on white powder a few years later, but before he did he and Sisco agreed to pay Cummings 10% of the Wharf's annual gross for the business, which was a pretty large sum of money considering the place did a strong year-round business even before the tourist hordes began arriving year-round a few years later. What the two boys from over the hill in Ukiah paid for the Wharf -- Cummings owned the building housing the restaurant and bar -- or where they got the money for it isn't known, but both of them had that uncanny ability to come up with hunks of cash just when they needed them most. And then as now, there's only one Mendocino County business that deals in large amounts of cash money -- the dope business, and dope money was all over Mendocino County by 1976.
Jim Cummings had run The Wharf himself for several years. He knew how much Sisco and Finnegan were making at the restaurant and it was far less than the amount they told Cummings they were making. Cummings knew Sisco was cheating him. Finnegan also soon suspected Sisco was cheating him too.
Cummings and Finnegan were right; both of them were being robbed on a daily basis because Sisco was at the Wharf's cash register while Cummings was busy in a multiplicity of his own hard currency enterprises down the street. And Finnegan was still practicing law over the hill in Ukiah.
Down in Noyo Harbor, Sisco's and Finnegan's Italian-Irish alliance was soon on the ecumenical rocks. Ruth Johnston, a bookkeeper and all-round Sisco gofer who filled in wherever Sisco told her she was needed, and whose devotion to Sisco would cost her her life savings, told Sisco that Finnegan had withdrawn $35,000 from the Wharf's checking account. Apparently Finnegan had decided to get paid one way or another so he just took what he figured Sisco owed him. The old quarterback was running up big white powder bills while he supported an array of investments far beyond his capacity to earn money to support them. But Sisco and Finnegan, like an exhausted couple a week into a dance marathon, stumbled on together, each going deeper and deeper into debt.
Sisco liked Fort Bragg even if Fort Bragg was wary of him. What he seemed to like most about the town was what he accurately perceived as an ample population of ethically flexible persons at the power levers, all of them existing in a county whose dominant institutions seemed just as flexible.
On September 9th 1978, Sisco's new home at 2220 Burrows Ranch Road, just north of Fort Bragg, went up in flames. Records from the Palace Hotel and The Wharf were said to be stored in the house, although Sisco had not yet moved in. It was an arson fire — rags and gasoline. Authorities knew almost at a glance that Sisco's new home had been deliberately torched. The house was heavily insured, of course, and Sisco was said to have come out ahead because he still owed the contractor for the construction of the place.
After the fire, a Fort Bragg man named Dan Brotherton told the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department that Sisco had recruited him to burn The Wharf's financial records because Jim Cummings wanted to see them. Nobody ever cheated Cummings for very long, and Sisco knew Cummings would quickly figure out that Sisco had been under-reporting The Wharf's proceeds on which Sisco's rent to Cummings was based. But Brotherton turned the records -- a half-dozen boxes of them -- over to the Sheriff's Department where they still languish. The disabled Brotherton, is a familiar sight around Fort Bragg, scooting about downtown in a motorized wheel chair. He's also a registered sex offender, his reputation as a multifaceted community menace now solidified by Megan's Law, the statewide public roster of child molesters.
A month after Sisco's new house north of Fort Bragg went up in flames, Patrick Finnegan bought Sisco out of The Wharf, selling Sisco's share of the business to Tom Wisdom, an honest Fort Bragg businessman who still operates The Wharf. (When the first competing restaurants in and above the harbor began to burn in 1986 and '87, Wisdom often spent uneasy nights trying to sleep in his new Wharf business, guarding it against the arsonists who were said to have a list of places to burn with The Wharf a priority target.
Wisdom's integrity seemed to irritate Bill Dunham, the Savings Bank's Fort Bragg manager who would arrange the impossible mortgages which ultimately worked to the advantage of Dominic and Mario Affinito, the next wave of new guys in town. Wisdom was not into drugs, didn't drink, didn't cheat on his wife, didn't tap the till -- the bad guys couldn't get anything on him, and they couldn't get The Wharf away from him. With Wisdom making money at the ever-popular Wharf Restaurant down in the harbor, the restaurants up on the bluffs that Dunham and the Savings Bank of Mendocino had financed, could not make their mortgage payments.
By the time Jim Cummings and his lawyer, Bob Petersen, could get Sisco to agree to let them have a look at The Wharf's receipts, Sisco told them his business records had unfortunately gone up in flames in what Sisco described as the "tragic" Burrows Ranch Road fire. It could never be proved, but at least one neighbor remembers seeing "antiques" being removed from Sisco's new home a few days before the fire.
After Finnegan bought out Sisco's share of The Wharf down in Noyo Harbor, Sisco set up shop with the Del Mar West in downtown Fort Bragg, just up Oak Street from the popular Piedmont Hotel. The Piedmont had been a Fort Bragg landmark since 1914. It featured a beautiful old bar, a restaurant justly famous for fine, multi-course meals at reasonable prices, and was the place in Fort Bragg to take the family out for a meal in wholesome, comfortable surroundings.
The Del Mar West up the street was a bar whose regulars tended to be a little rough. Sisco, a man who yearned for respectability, envied the Piedmont. Other newcomers to the town's restaurant and bar business who were a lot savvier and far more lushly capitalized than Sisco, also envied the success and solid reputation enjoyed by the Piedmont.
The Del Mar West, since become the Ship's Wheel, was popular with young people, especially young people who walked on the wild side, and there were lots of young people walking on the wild side by 1980, and these young people were mostly unaware that the fun-loving older guys from out of town who were running the Coast's fun spots were very dangerous people.
Among the Del Mar's regulars was a loosely organized Fort Bragg motorcycle club who called themselves the Gladiators. They were local tough guys who liked to drink beer, toot cocaine, fight, and roar around town on their bikes. They hung out at the bar and would become the pool from which Sisco fished for recruits for felony-level crimes, including arson, drug dealing, the fencing of stolen goods, and odd-job thuggery.
No one could ever figure out why she was with a man old enough to be her father, but Sisco's girl friend at the time was an attractive young woman named Cecilia "Ceil" Larkin. The personable Ceil was popular with many of the bar's regulars who'd known her since childhood. She was also a hard worker who often seemed to be running the place by herself. These days, long past whatever it was that impelled her to depart the straight and narrow, Ceil won't talk about life with Vince.
Sisco had that effect on people; folks would just as soon forget they ever knew him. Even his daughter, Sandra Tonstad, wants to obliterate the memory of her larcenous father. "I don't know if he's dead or alive, and I don't care," she says.
It was a wild time those two decades beginning in 1970 or so. There were lots of bars on the Mendocino Coast where the regulars and the staff stayed on after last call to snort the bracing powders distilled from Colombian cocoa leaves laid out in white lines on the bar. After hours coke parties were a staple of the Coast's night life from 1970 through the middle 1980s.
But hard drugs had been oddly ubiquitous in Fort Bragg clear back to the late 1950s. Drug use wasn't new to the area, but there were lots of new drug users in the area with the arrival of several thousand hippies beginning in 1967 or so.
Why were drugs so prevalent in Fort Bragg? Some people say big shipments of dope of all kinds have been brought in through Noyo for many years. Other people say Noyo as a dope entrepot is silly because "there are so many busy bodies down there the cops would know right away if people were bringing dope in by boat." However they got to town, drugs have been easy to find in Fort Bragg for a very long time.
"Why bring drugs into a small place like Noyo when you've got the whole San Francisco Bay clear up into the Sacramento Delta to do it?" is how another indignant Fort Bragg resident puts it when Noyo is described as an aquatic sin city.
Whatever the reason for a half-century of hard drug availability, Fort Bragg has had a thriving population of junkies out of all proportion to its population for many years. Life magazine was so struck by the incongruity of widespread drug use in a small town remote from urban areas that the magazine ran a puzzled cover piece on Fort Bragg in 1959.
Where there are hard drugs, there are harder men selling them. And there are some very hard men on the Mendocino Coast these days.
Although he and Finnegan had parted ways in their Noyo enterprise, The Wharf, on May 18th, 1981, they went into business together in the Lido restaurant in Ukiah, paying Irving and Juanita Styer $326,081.11 for the business and the building housing it. Sisco seems to have used the Del Mar West in Fort Bragg as at least partial collateral to raise the money to buy the Lido, but from 1980 on both his and Finnegan's sources of capital are impossible to trace. Together, the two of them on paper weren't generating sufficient income to buy three hundred thousand dollar businesses, but they now owned the Lido.
Well, they owned the Lido together for a while anyway.
Five months after they bought the Perkins Street restaurant, October 16th, 1981, Sisco signed the place over to Finnegan
Finnegan, deep into cocaine, lasted a couple of years at the Lido, but by January of 1984 the place was on the trustee auction block.
In August of 1981 Sollini's restaurant, where Dominic Affinito's disputed North Cliff Motel now stands, was badly damaged by fire. The Sollini's decided not to rebuild. But Sisco, who'd sold an agreement to Tom Wisdom not to compete in the restaurant business within ten miles of Noyo Harbor where Wisdom had taken over The Wharf restaurant, managed to persuade his daughter, Sandra Tonstad, to front a new restaurant for him on the north end of the Noyo Bridge at the site of the old Sollini place.
The Sollinis didn't like Sisco; they'd already refused to sell their place to him. They were shocked when they sat down in the Fort Bragg office of attorney Tom Lonergan to sign over their restaurant to Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Tonstad, and there was Vince Sisco sitting there like he owned the place which, of course, he did.
Mrs. Tonstad denies that her father was present at the signing. Mrs. Sollini says Sisco was there. In any case, Mrs. Sandra Tonstad-Sisco now owned Sollini's on the north cliff overlooking the mouth of the Noyo River.
In April of 1982 Mrs. Tonstad-Sisco obtained a building permit to rehab Sollini's, which she and her father would soon rechristen and operate as Agostinos until Agostinos was closed by a timely arson fire in 1986. The Tonstads and Sisco quickly rebuilt and reopened for business as The Waterfront Bar and Grill with party boy Dunham of the Savings Bank providing the loan money.
Repairs to the fire-damaged old Sollini's restaurant, when Sandra and Bernard Tonstad, fronting for dad, Vince Sisco, first bought the place in 1981, were estimated at a modest $20,000. Sisco, ever the miracle man when it comes to borrowing money and obtaining insurance worth more than the premises and the businesses operating on the premises, hustled up a series of loans from the Savings Bank's Dunham. At the same time Sisco was talking the Savings Bank into loaning him that $140,000 and agreeing to repay it "on demand or by 90 days" at an interest rate of 18.5%, he tapped his bookkeeper, Ruth Johnston, for $5,000 which he deposited with the Savings Bank in the "Palace Hotel Building account." Mrs. Johnston, who never got a penny back of the $50,000 she would loan Sisco -- her life savings -- charitably charged her boss an interest rate of only 10% on the five thousand.
Sisco borrowed the money to buy Sollini's under his own name, but Sandra and Bernard Tonstad were listed as owners.
Bernard and Sandra Tonstad-Sisco agreed to pay the Sollinis $460,000 for their property. Bernard, Sandra and dear old dad then opened for business as Agostinos in the summer of 1982. The deal was $50,000 down, another $25,000 at close of escrow and a 15-year note for monthly payments of $4,871.29 per month at 13% interest. Which is a lot of meals to sell to meet the incurred obligations. If the Sollinis had ever gotten the full amount owed them spread over the agreed upon 15 years of payments, they'd have been paid a total of $876,832.22. But like Sisco's duped bookkeeper, Ruth Johnston, they didn't get anywhere near their $460,000 sales price from Vince Sisco, which probably didn't surprise them since they'd pegged Sisco for a crook the first time they'd laid eyes on him.
Vince Sisco's magic purse was getting a real work out, but he had managed to come up with seed money to buy the Sollinis' place and persuade Tom Wisdom down below in the harbor at The Wharf to accept a promissory note for $75,000 to buy back Sisco's agreement not to compete with restaurants in the Noyo. When Patrick Finnegan discovered that Sisco was trying to sneak back into the restaurant business up on the north cliff using his daughter as camouflage, he confronted Sisco. Sisco told Finnegan he was only the manager of the new place, Agostinos. His daughter, Sandra Tonstad, owned the business, Sisco said. Finnegan, by now long accustomed to his partner's machinations, soon got Sisco to confess that he indeed owned Agostinos. His daughter and her husband were only fronting the place for him.
Sandra Tonstad-Sisco and her husband Bernard, the latter said to be aware that his father-in-law was not exactly the kind of guy he had in mind when he married dear Sandra, guaranteed the promise to pay Wisdom the $75,000 Sisco was paying to buy back the No Compete Contract. The Tonstads put up their house in Sunnyvale as collateral for Sisco's buy-back deal with Wisdom.
At the fiery end of Vince Sisco's serially frantic Fort Bragg maneuverings in the summer of 1987, the Tonstads were totally, bitterly estranged from Dad. They had invested several years of their lives in Agostinos only to see it burn in 1986, rebuilt it and reopened on the same north cliff site as The Waterfront Bar and Grill and suffer another loss when pop's arson crew tried to burn the place again. Mr. and Mrs. Tonstad lost almost all of the money they had when dad, his Fort Bragg businesses collapsed and in ashes, hit the road for parts unknown.
The Tonstads are believed to have also had the bejeezus scared right out of them. "It was a shame, too," said a waitress who'd worked with the Tonstads at Agostinos. "Sandra worked very, very hard. She was there from early in the morning until late at night. I really don't think she and Bernard understood what was going on until it was too late. It was a very scary time."
What was going on is that Sisco was ripping her off too, his own daughter, stuffing cash into his pockets while his daughter slaved away doing the work of the place. No wonder Sandra doesn't care whether her father is alive or dead.
By 1983, the Affinitos were up and running at the Tradewinds on Main Street a couple of blocks from the prospering Piedmont Hotel. The Affinitos had picked up The Tradewinds for $2 million cash. They were also buying up properties all over Fort Bragg, including a two-legged property named Andre Schade, a Fort Bragg City councilman. And they had a pivotal buddy at the Savings Bank, Bill Dunham, himself engaged in a strenuous night life of the type the Affinitos put to good use.
As Dunham and the Affinitos schemed to drive James West out of the Cliffhouse on the south cliff of the Noyo, they cast covetous eyes across the river at Agostinos, which had become The Waterfront Bar and Grill after Agostinos mysteriously burned, and where Vince Sisco was frantically trying to keep the Sollinis, the Savings Bank, his daughter and son-in-law, and goodness knows who, all paid up, with plenty of cash for himself, of course, which is why Sisco always made sure he was either at the cash register or nearby.
The Dunham-Affinito alliance soon drove West into bankruptcy. West, after investing in his state-of-the-art kitchen, and having created a very nice place with an ocean view, couldn't make his mortgage, which Dominic Affinito then picked up for the proverbial song from his buddy at the bank, Bill Dunham. The Affinitos bought the Cliff House for $300,000 after West had completed significant structural work and expensive interior remodeling worth at least that much.
Across the Noyo from Affinito's latest acquisition, Sisco was being buried in debt. By December of 1983, even the Savings Bank had figured out that Vince Sisco owned Agostinos, not his daughter, but it took the bank two more years to get around to suing him.
By early 1985, Sisco was on the ropes. Everyone else in the restaurant business around him was making money while Sisco's old partner, Patrick Finnegan, the Ukiah lawyer and restaurant entrepreneur, who had sunk a small fortune in Sisco-inspired businesses, was veering completely out of control. Finnegan's law practice, newly ensconced in a meticulously restored Victorian at Mill and South State Streets in Ukiah, suffered from Finnegan's increasingly erratic behavior. On January 24th of 1985, a drunken Finnegan careened head-on into a car carrying three Fort Bragg residents heading home on highway 20. Finnegan would later be arrested at the Mexican border near San Diego on a variety of charges ranging from possession of drugs, to flight to avoid prosecution.
Back in Fort Bragg, Vince Sisco also wanted to fly away, but he didn't have money for wings. He was going seriously broke at an age lots of men are thinking about enjoying their retirement.
In 1986, Fort Bragg's restaurants began to burn more often. Vince Sisco and a former employee of the San Mateo County's Coroner's Office, hired the young men who lit the fires, one of those young men may have been murdered, and Dominic Affinito benefitted each step of the way.
(Next: Who Burned Fort Bragg & Why)