Entrepreneur details first on-the-record allegations against Pishevar - Axios
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Entrepreneur details first on-the-record allegations against Pishevar

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals

Laura Fitton is a Boston entrepreneur and social marketing executive, known to many early Twitter users as the co-author of Twitter for Dummies. She also is now the sixth woman to accuse venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar of sexual misconduct, and the first to do so on the record, alleging that Pishevar forcibly kissed her and engaged in other inappropriate behavior after a charity event six years ago.

Pishevar on Tuesday took a leave of absence from his venture capital firm, from a company where he serves as executive chairman, and from several boards of directors.

Why she's speaking out: Fitton says she was stunned and disheartened by Pishevar's denial of the initial five allegations and, in particular, his claim to be "the victim of an organized smear campaign." Moreover, several of the other women's claims mirrored parts of her alleged experience, suggesting a pattern of behavior.

"I was naive to feel that confronting him in 2011 was enough to protect other women. It has been devastating to learn that he allegedly went on to hurt others, and, if so, it's devastating that he hasn't yet found the courage to own his mistakes, apologize, and start making amends."
Pishevar "unequivocally and categorically denies any improper behavior toward Ms. Fitton," via a statement from his attorney, which also claims that the pair's continued digital correspondence in subsequent years — which Axios has reviewed — is exculpatory.

Fitton alleges that the incident occurred after a December 2011 fundraiser in New York City. At the time, Fitton had recently sold her Boston-area startup, while Pishevar had recently joined Silicon Valley venture capital firm Menlo Ventures. She claims:

  • The two of them interacted once or twice during the main event, and then both attended a VIP after party at the Gansevoort Park Avenue NYC hotel that went until the wee hours of the morning. Several attendees, including Fitton and Pishevar, complained about the relative lack of food, and Pishevar told Fitton that a group of people were going to his room later to order room service. She said she was in, and continued to socialize with others. Axios has seen photographs of both Fitton and Pishevar at the event.
  • Pishevar waved her over as the party began to wind down and, as they arrived at the hotel elevator bank, she realized that the two of them were alone. He said the others were on their way.
  • When they got into the elevator, Fitton says that he "grabbed me and aggressively deep kissed me. I pushed him away by both shoulders, said 'no' and 'stop,' and pointed out that he was married.
  • When they arrived at his floor, Fitton voluntarily went to his room. "I know how stupid it sounds, but I was starving," she says. "I thought he had gotten the message in the elevator, and really did expect the others to come any minute."
  • The others didn't arrive. As Fitton and Pishevar waited for the food to arrive, she says that Pishevar kept up his advances. She says he "asked for quite a bit more than kissing," and eventually agreed to let him hold her (fully clothed) on top of the bed. He kept talking in the third-person ("Shervy") about his marriage troubles and needs.
  • Once the food arrived, they ate and Fitton left. She says that, while they ate, he asked why she wasn't making eye contact. "He was oblivious. I ate fast."

The fundraiser was on a Monday. Fitton tried to reach Pishevar that Wednesday and the two spoke by phone on Thursday. She says she told him that he had been inappropriate not only in a general sense, but also because he was a VC and she was a founder. Pishevar allegedly rejected that characterization of their dynamic, saying he felt the two shared a non-professional bond because they had both been single-parent entrepreneurs. As the call ended, Pishevar allegedly told Fitton to let him know if she needed help getting a job in the future.

Fitton also provided Axios with a text message Pishevar sent her later on Thursday:

"Just want to say thank you for being real with me. I deeply appreciate that. Let's grab a proper breakfast or lunch and share inspiration and advice together. You're an awesome person."

Fitton says she told a fellow Boston entrepreneur and friend about the incident within days of it occurring, which the entrepreneur confirms to Axios. In fact, it was that entrepreneur (not Fitton) who originally approached Axios, following a November story about Pishevar having been arrested in London for sexual assault (he was never charged with a crime, and denies the allegation).

She also acknowledges having kept in contact with Pishevar in the subsequent years, including requests that he speak at work events she was organizing.

Fitton also tagged Pishevar in a few tweets, including one that included a group photo from the December 2011 fundraiser, and sent a Facebook message in 2015 after she had just seen Pishevar give what she deemed to be an inspiring speech.

"I wanted you to know I'm sorry I had such a brittle response to you at charity ball years ago. You reached out to me in a way we both badly needed at the time and I reacted with fear and shame. I regret that. You are really, really special."

"My entire career is dependent on my professional network," Fitton explains to Axios. "He wasn't just a contact I wanted to keep, but maybe my most valuable contact. He was like a golden boy because he seemed to be connected to every hot startup in Silicon Valley. So I didn't want to risk that when I was in the room with him, nor years later when I apologized... I felt it might soothe his ego a bit, and I'm a pretty obsequious person... [The Facebook message and a similar text message] makes it sound like I needed him in some sort of sexual way, but that's not at all what I meant and I know it looks terrible. It was about how he was talking to me that night about his marriage falling apart, and how I understood because I had gotten divorced and had basically been single since. We both had separate but parallel awfulness in our lives, but that doesn't mean I wanted what happened to happen."

Pishevar's attorney argues that regular and cordial communications between Fitton and Pishevar since the 2011 incident are evidence in favor of his denial, although so far has not responded to a request from Axios as to whether he denies having kissed her in the elevator nor the requests that she join him on the bed.

Context: Pishevar has denied all prior allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Last month he filed a defamation lawsuit against a political opposition research firm, which yesterday filed a legal reply in which it denied the allegations. Axios also has learned that Pishevar's attorney has sent "document hold requests" to a number of people, which are an interim step litigators often take between filing suit and discovery (when subpoenas for relevant correspondence can be served).

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North Korea sanctions are keeping food, medicine from citizens

Pyongyang citizens gathering to mourn in front of a portrait of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at the Pyongyang Gymnasium. Photo: KCNA / AFP / Getty Images

Sanctions against North Korea could increase cases of acute malnutrition among children, and hamper humanitarian efforts, according to a Washington Post report.

Why it matters: While sanctions were enforced with the intent of punishing the regime for its nuclear threats and missile launches, an American neurosurgeon who operates in North Korea, Kee Park, told the Post "they're hurting the wrong people."

  • The U.K. announced last month it would cut off aid to North Korea.
  • South Korea hasn't "delivered on its September pledge to give $8 million to the World Food Program and UNICEF for children and pregnant women," the Post reports.
  • The U.N. resident coordinator in Pyongyang, Tapan Mishra, wrote to U.N. officials that "crucial relief items, including medical equipment and drugs, have been held up for months...they are not on the list of sanctions items."
  • A humanitarian worker in Pyongyang told the Post said Chinese suppliers "have decided that it's not worth the exposure or the risk of their reputations" to continue sending supplies, despite not sending anything already banned by sanctions.
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Inside the Pentagon's multi-million dollar program to explore UFOs

An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C. Photo: AFP staff / Getty Images

The Pentagon has officially confirmed the existence of its $22 million program to investigate unidentified flying objects (UFOs), reported by Politico and the New York Times almost simultaneously today.

Why it matters, per Politico's Bryan Bender: "The revelation of the program could give a credibility boost to UFO theorists, who have long pointed to public accounts by military pilots and others describing phenomena that defy obvious explanation, and could fuel demands for increased transparency about the scope and findings of the Pentagon effort, which focused some of its inquiries into subjects such as next-generation propulsion systems."

The details of the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program:

  • Harry Reid, the former Democratic Senate Majority Leader requested the program's funding in 2007. Much of it came from Robert Bigelow, the billionaire behind an aerospace program who currently works with NASA.
  • Bigelow said on CBS last May that he was "absolutely convinced" that UFOs have visited Earth and that aliens exist.
  • Pilots and various military personnel have claimed to see UFOs that "maneuvered so unusually and so fast that they seemed to defy the laws of physics."
  • One UFO sighting collected by the program is documented in "footage from a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet showing an aircraft surrounded by some kind of glowing aura traveling at high speed and rotating as it moves," per NYT.

The program's funding ended in 2012, though some of the program's backers say it continues to operate. A Pentagon spokesman, Thomas Crosson, told NYT: “It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding, and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change."

Why now: Luis Elizondo, a military intelligence officer who helped run AATIP, resigned in October because he said there wasn't sufficient time and effort put into the UFO investigation, according to his resignation letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis.

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The crackdown on college fraternities

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house at Ohio State University. Photo: Dake Kang / AP

"[A]mid worries about endemic binge drinking, sexual assault and a startling spate of deaths, schools are going beyond the old practice of shutting down individual [fraternity] houses to imposing broad restrictions on all Greek life," the N.Y. Times' Anemona Hartocollis reports atop column 1:

  • "Activities like fraternity parties and initiations have been suspended or curtailed at colleges including Ball State, Indiana University, Ohio State and the University of Michigan, as well as at least five where deaths have occurred this year: Florida State, Louisiana State, Penn State, Texas State and Iowa."
  • Why it matters ... Tracy Maxwell, founder of HazingPrevention.org: "There is definitely this moment in time where society is not willing to accept behavior that in the past has been acceptable."

Go deeper: The state of college Greek life.

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Americans loathe Washington, but like home

Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images

Americans are pessimistic about Washington and think the country is on the wrong track (69%), but are optimistic about their local communities.

That's the encouraging finding of an AP-NORC (University of Chicago) poll:

  • 9% think the country has become more united under Trump, while 67% think the country is more divided. (44% of Americans said in a poll last year that Obama's presidency had further divided the country.)
  • Even Republicans think Trump has divided America more than uniting it, 41% to 17%.
  • But, but, but ... "[P]essimism about the president and national politics doesn't extend to local communities. ... [A]bout half of Americans said they feel optimistic about their local communities" — 55% of Ds and 50% of Rs.
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Mexico grants military more power in fighting drug war

Soldiers from the Mexican Army and Mexican Marines patrol along Acapulco's coastline. Photo: AFP photo/ Francisco Robles/Getty Images

The Mexican military will be granted more control in the fight against the country's drug war, which has increasingly become more violent under President Enrique Peña Nieto, after a law passed in Mexico's Congress yesterday.

Why it matters: Critics of the law — including United Nations officials and human rights groups — argue that it would "will vastly expand military authority without checks and balances and offers no exit strategy to cede eventual leadership of the campaign to combat drugs to an effective police force," per NYT.

Why now: Violence from Mexican drug cartles has gotten worse under President Peña Nieto's tenure — NYT notes that 2017 has been "the deadliest in two decades." And since troops were first sent to combat the drug gangs in 2006, "more than 200,000 people have been killed in the drug war and 31,000 people have gone missing," according to official statistics cited by NYT.

The changes:

  • Mexico has maintained civilian control over their army for nearly the past 100 years, which has ultimately given local law enforcement officers complete jurisdiction over their areas. This law would give the government and the military more control.
  • The Mexican military currently operates in 27 of 32 states around the country — they were only in six states when Peña Nieto became president five years ago.
  • Peña Nieto would have to issue a public executive order detailing his reasons for sending in more troops to different areas. That EO would last a year.
  • The military will have more authority to carry out investigations on their own terms, thus breaking from the civilian control under which they've previously operated.
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White House paper suggests solar tariff support

Workers seen by solar panels of the Isyangulovo solar power plant in Zianchurinsky District, the Republic of Bashkortostan. Vadim Braidov/TASS Photo: Vadim Braidov\TASS via Getty Images

A White House document circulating within the Trump administration lays out a case for imposing new trade restrictions on imports of solar panel equipment from Asia, according to a report in Politico.

Why it matters: It's the latest sign that President Trump's hawkish trade stance toward China will soon lead to tariffs that U.S. solar energy developers fear will sharply drive up costs and curtail new project development.

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) concluded in September that low-cost imports — many of which come from Chinese owned companies operating in Asia — were a cause of "serious injury" to domestic panel manufacturers.

The finding came in response to a petition from two financially distressed manufacturing companies, Suniva and SolarWorld.

What's next: The White House is slated to make a decision as soon as next month on whether to impose tariffs or perhaps some other forms of solar trade restrictions.

In November the ITC recommended tariffs that are less aggressive than what the petitioners sought. But the White House has wide latitude to decide what form of penalties, if any, to impose.

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How Affordable Care Act cutbacks will hurt minority communities

Two Florida resents shop for insurance at a local center offering Obamacare enrollment. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Trump administration cut the Affordable Care Act federal insurance enrollment period in half (to 45 days), which has people scrambling to get insurance before time's up. But the administration's cutbacks to the program overall could have a disproportionate effect on minority communities, per NYT.

Why it matters: The Affordable Care Act has reduced the disparities in coverage across minority groups, even as African Americans and Hispanics throughout the country remain more likely than whites to be uninsured.

By the numbers:

  • 16% of Hispanics overall remain uninsured, down from 24.4% in 2013.
  • 10.5% of African Americans overall remain uninsured, down from 15.9% in 2013.
  • Among Hispanics ages 18-64, the uninsured rate is 17.9 percentage points higher than whites of the same age. In 2013, the difference was 26 percentage points.
  • Among African Americans ages 18-64, the uninsured rate is 4.6 percentage points higher than whites of the same age. In 2013, the gap was 10.4 percentage points.

One example of how the administrations cuts is already affecting minority communities, detailed by NYT, is at the Center for Family Services in New Jersey. The nonprofit center assists local residents across seven counties. After its federal funding was cut by 64%, the staff of 21 members who collectively spoke six different languages has been reduced to a staff of six that only speaks English and Spanish.

With a reduced enrollment period and a smaller staff, it's difficult for nonprofit groups like this to serve residents who need help signing up for insurance. “We're still getting out there and doing events," Pamela Gray, a navigator with the group, told NYT, “but the less people, the less people you're able to serve."

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Trump had fewer deportations than Obama's first year

Despite President Trump's tough-on-immigration rhetoric, there were around 177,000 fewer deportations this year than in 2009, Obama's first year in office. That number is lower than any year during Obama's presidency, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data.

Data: Immigration and Customs Enforcement via FOIA office; Chart: Andrew WItherspoon / Axios

One big thing: The numbers didn't really start to decline for Obama until after he signed DACA in 2012. It protects illegal immigrants from deportation if they came here as children, but in September, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of the program.

Why it matters: Sessions gave Congress six months to figure out what to do about the Dreamers, and if nothing is done, the removal of DACA's protections could lead to an uptick in deportations.

Don't forget:

  • Since the very beginning, Trump has campaigned on a border wall, more deportation officers and tougher immigration policies.
  • In February, then-DHS Secretary John Kelly signed two memos, which allowed ICE officers to arrest anyone they suspected of violating immigration laws, among other things. The memos caused a panic, and there were several stories published about ICE roundups and immigrations raids.

Trump vs. Obama: ICE officers in Texas feel a "night and day" difference in their work between Trump's and Obama's presidency, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told Axios in October. He said that during the Obama administration "they were basically told not to do their job."

By the numbers:

  • Trump's highest deportation month had only about half the number of deportations as Obama's highest month.
  • In 2008, there were more than twice as many non-criminal deportations as criminal deportations. The ratio in 2016 was 0.71 — the third-lowest ratio, following 2015 and 2013.
  • Unauthorized border crossing attempts have also dropped by almost 150,000, according to Customs and Border Protection data. This could partially contribute to the declining deportation numbers, as a number of arrests and deportations occur at the border.
  • While deportations are down, there was a 25% increase in ICE arrests, the Washington Post reported.
Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect that 2009 was Obama's first year in office, not 2008.
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Trump admin bans CDC from using certain words like "fetus"

Outside the CDC headquarters in Washington, D.C. Photo: Photo by James Leynse / Corbis via Getty Images

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were told by the Trump administration on Thursday that they are not allowed to use the words like "science-based," "evidence-based" and "transgender," in their budget documents, according to a CDC analyst who spoke to The Washington Post.

Why it matters: The administration wants to control what it considers controversial wording from agencies as they submit documents for the president's budget for 2019, expected to be released in February. However, the analyst told the WashPost they "could not recall a previous time when words were banned from budget documents" due to ideology.

The details, per The Washington Post:

  • The list of banned words: vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based and science-based.
  • The meeting about the banned words was led by Alison Kelly, a senior leader in the agency’s Office of Financial Services, who told the CDC officials she was just the messenger.
  • The CDC has offices that directly work with public health issues that relate to those words, such as its research on fetus development for the Zika virus and preventing HIV among transgender people.

Other CDC officials confirmed the existence of a list of forbidden words, the article said, although spokespeople from CDC or OMB did not comment by their deadline.

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Here's the ex-Uber employee's letter that delayed the Waymo trial

Photo: Jaap Arriens / Getty Images

Confirming much of his testimony in court, a letter written by a former Uber employee's attorney outlines claims that the ride-hailing company was using covert methods of communications to evade legal discovery and gather information about competitors, including trade secrets.

Yes, but: During his testimony in court, Jacobs backtracked on the letter's claim that he had knowledge of Uber using special covert tactics to steal trade secrets from Waymo.

More: Earlier on Friday, the court's special master assigned to the case issued a report on the matter, in which he concluded that while Uber did not have to turn over Jacobs' resignation email and eventual settlement as part of the requested documents, it should have disclosed his 37-page letter.

Backstory: The letter emerged in this lawsuit in late November after the Justice Department notified the presiding judge of its existence because it includes claims about Uber's theft of Waymo's trade secrets. In court, Uber's assistant general counsel Angela Padilla said that the company perceived that letter as an attempt to extort money from Uber (it eventually settled with Jacobs and his lawyer for a total of $7.5 million). Other then-Uber employees testified that Jacobs was fired for poor performance, not for objecting to illegal and unthetical practices. Jacobs denied this, saying he had never received negative performance feedback until that point.

  • Still, many of the practices outlined in the letter are alarming (though not all have been substantiated). They include impersonating drivers, riders, and protestors, bribing foreign officials, recording competitors and employees without their knowledge, and using untraceable devices for communication.
  • Note that Joe Sullivan, Uber's then-chief security officer who oversaw all of these competitive intelligence teams, was fired last month because of his decision to conceal a data breach in October 2016. And so was an in-house attorney who worked under Sullivan and worked with Jacobs' team.
  • After the letter emerged, Uber's new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, and new general counsel, Tony West, both warned the company that such practices will no longer be tolerated even if legal.

From Uber:

While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in this letter—and, importantly, any related to Waymo—our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology.

Here's the full (court-redacted) letter: