Pishevar takes leave amid allegations
Venture capitalist says he’s target of ‘smear campaign’
SAN FRANCISCO – Less than a week after being hit with claims that he sexually harassed six women, Virgin Hyperloop One co-founder Shervin Pishevar said Tuesday he was taking a leave of absence from his businesses to focus on a lawsuit against a research firm that he believes is behind a smear campaign.
The venture capitalist, an early investor in Uber, was put in the nation’s growing sexual-harassment spotlight last week. A Bloomberg report charged that he groped early Uber employee Austin Geidt at a 2014 Uber party, citing unnamed witnesses. Geidt, currently head of operations, has not commented on the matter. The report also said he harassed other women in professional settings.
Pishevar last week responded to those claims through crisis management spokesperson Mark Fabiani, saying Pishevar was the focus of a “smear campaign.”
Pishevar’s statement Tuesday said he had “decided to take an immediate leave of absence from my duties at Sherpa Capital and Virgin Hyperloop One, as well as my portfolio company board responsibilities, so that I can pursue the prosecution of my lawsuit, where I am confident I will be vindicated.”
The venture capital firm he cofounded, Sherpa Capital, said it was launching an independent internal review to “ensure our practices and operations continue to reflect the highest professional and ethical standards.”
“We respect and support Shervin’s decision to take a leave of absence while he pursues his rights under the law,” the statement, released Tuesday, said. “We recognize the inherent challenges of reporting misconduct, but note that Sherpa has never received a sexual harassment complaint.”
Although the venture capitalist’s other business partners have remained silent about the accusations, two Democratic senators — Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey — who received donations from Pishevar, a big Democratic donor, said they were giving his donations to organizations that support women who are dealing with sexual violence.
Silicon Valley Bank, which in late October invested in a Sherpa effort called Silicon Foundry — which aims to connect start-ups with established companies and recently opened a 12,500square-foot San Francisco headquarters — did not respond to multiple email and telephone messages seeking comment.
A Virgin spokesperson would not comment on the allegations but confirmed that the company remains an investor in Hyperloop One. While the size of Virgin’s investment in the 700-mph tube transportation system is unknown, it was large enough to warrant adding its name to the enterprise.
The lawsuit Pishevar is fighting stems from an incident in London last May in which a woman told police that she had been raped by Pishevar at a hotel.
A month later, Pishevar got a court injunction that prevented British media outlets from naming him, although that ruling did not apply to U.S. media. According to a recent Forbes report, London police officials closed the case in July due to insufficient evidence.
A police report cited by some media that contained details about the incident was deemed to be a forgery. That report incited Pishevar’s ire and suspicions, and he subsequently sued Washington, D.C.-based Definers Public Affairs, a public affairs and research firm.
“Through the (case’s) discovery process, I hope to unearth who fabricated the fraudulent London ‘police report,’ and who is responsible for spreading false rumors about me,” Pishevar said. “This was a decision I came to and proposed on my own accord. It is not one I took lightly, and it was a difficult decision that was guided by Sherpa Capital’s abiding belief in service and putting others before ourselves.”
Definers partner Tim Miller called Pishevar’s accusations “delusional.”
“We have never engaged in any of the actions he outlined in this complaint, and Definers has never done any work with regards to Mr. Pishevar,” Miller said.
The Bloomberg report also featured anecdotes from five other women who allege that Pishevar leveraged his position of power to make unwanted sexual advances. Although the women are anonymous, Bloomberg backed up its findings by corroborating accounts with people the women told about the alleged behavior, as well as by reviewing Facebook messages related to the incidents.
“He basically jumped on me, tried to put his tongue down my throat, and I stopped it,” said one of the women in the Bloomberg report. “I wanted to get career advice, and it was twisted into something else.”
“I hope to unearth ... who is responsible for spreading false rumors about me.” Shervin Pishevar
Shervin Pishevar is co-founder of Virgin Hyperloop and Sherpa Capital. Pishevar says he will “pursue the prosecution of my lawsuit, where I am confident I will be vindicated” of the sexual-harassment claims. JOHN GURZINSKI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES