Indicted SiliconSage CEO Enjoyed Access to Local Political Leaders

The opening of SiliconSage Builders’ HQ drew mayors from around Silicon Valley.

San Jose’s Sam Liccardo, Santa Clara’s Lisa Gillmor and Fremont’s Bill Harrison joined the April 26, 2016, soiree on the developer’s Mathilda Avenue office rooftop in Sunnyvale

The municipal leaders, all from cities with SiliconSage projects underway, praised the urbanist vision espoused by its charismatic CEO, Sanjeev Acharya.

Gillmor—a second-generation South Bay real estate scion—hugged Acharya as she exited the elevator and commended SiliconSage on camera for spearheading projects “that we’re incredibly proud of.” Among them, Santa Clara’s first downtown development in 20 years. The 44-unit Downtown Gateway condo complex sat across from the Gillmor family’s longtime commercial property holdings on Franklin Street, an economic conflict that forced her recusal during rezoning votes.

Gillmor elicited laughs by acknowledging her initial reservations about the unproven company, whose CEO sought to bring the tech sector’s disruptive ethos to an old-school industry. The lighthearted quip proved remarkably prescient.

Four-and-a-half years after that rooftop reception, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) slapped SiliconSage and its principal executive with criminal charges.

Lisa Gillmor and Sanjeev Acharya

Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor embraced Silicon Sage CEO Sanjeev Acharya upon arriving at his headquarters for a party.

Greasing the Traps

Acharya rose to prominence by courting Silicon Valley politicians and leveraging his prominence to woo members of the South Asian community with promises of double-digit annual returns. Though he denies the allegations, the SEC accuses the CEO of swindling backers out of $119 million through a Ponzi-like scheme that paid old investors with newly-raised money rather than proceeds of previous projects.

SiliconSage marked something of a second act for Acharya, who spent two decades as a software engineer before breaking into real estate during the Great Recession.

In Acharya’s telling, the career reinvention was borne of necessity.

A few years after buying an old Sunnyvale home in 2007 with plans to subdivide it into two units—one to live in and the other to rent out—banks tightened up lending, forcing Acharya to find another way to fund his project. “I reached out to friends and their friends to ask if they wanted to invest,” he told the Silicon Valley Business Journal in 2014. “I raised $425,000 in two weeks.”

He finished the project in 2011, sold both lots and quit tech to pursue his new calling.

SiliconSage garnered glowing media coverage for skirting conventional financing and maintaining control of everything from entitlement, to design and construction. By focusing at first on smaller mixed-use projects typically eschewed by bigger competitors, SiliconSage appealed to cities encouraging infill development.

Keeping everything in-house paired with crowd-sourced funding also eliminated the checks and balances that typically accompany institutional financing. While other developers passed on small, for-sale housing projects, Acharya moved forward.

If a development like Santa Clara’s Downtown Gateway got through construction without grease traps and venting to accommodate future restaurant tenants, few outsiders had a chance to raise concerns. The problem was immediately apparent to some observers.

“Many of us residents were like ‘What were they thinking?,’” Santa Clara Councilman Suds Jain said. “We were kind of perplexed at why they would do that.”

Acharya’s earnestness seemed to overshadow any red flags.

He became known for his community outreach, often starting talks with residents earlier than other developers and going to more trouble to convince them of what he seemed to also believe: he was doing something good.

Acharya spent much of his energy similarly convincing public officials as his vision grew more ambitious. Politicians eager for housing development and campaign money eagerly vouched for the real estate neophyte.

In 2017, SiliconSage executives donated $7,200 to Liccardo’s practically uncontested re-election bid. That same year, they chipped in $1,800 to North Side Councilman Lan Diep. In 2020, they contributed $3,000 to Matt Mahan’s successful run for a District 10 seat.

San Jose counci lmembers Pam Foley and Raul Peralez benefited as well from SiliconSage’s largesse. The firm also sponsored the Silicon Valley Organization’s Mayor’s Breakfast, giving the chamber’s political action committee a donation of $20,000 in February 2020 at Liccardo’s behest, according to disclosure reports.

SiliconSage extended its generosity to a host of nonprofits. In 2019, the company offered then reneged on a $15,000 sponsorship to SPUR.

The company’s philanthropic arm pledged $25,000 to sponsor the mayor’s San Jose Jazz Society breakfast but only coughed up 20 percent. It contributed to the Mission City Community Foundation, a pet charity of Mayor Gillmor.

Acharya enjoyed generous access to the top political officials. Gillmor’s Oct.10, 2018, calendar shows the entry: “Met to discuss Santa Clara Unified School District Support.” On Oct. 31, 2019, GIllmor discussed North San Jose, and a month later, she and Santa Clara Councilwoman Debi Davis undertook a “Tour of SiliconSage Franklin Project,” according to the Santa Clara mayor’s schedule.

Liccardo’s calendar shows two City Hall meetings, one on Dec. 14, 2016, and another on Jan. 12, 2018, in his office—both to discuss “business development,” with a February 2017 phone check-in in-between about “N. 1st and Montague.”

On July 12, 2018, Acharya and Liccardo lunched at the Farmer’s Union restaurant.

Sanjeev Acharya and Sam Liccardo

SiliconSage featured photographs of its CEO with Mayor Liccardo in its promotional videos.

Grand Plans

In 2018, Acharya submitted plans for a project that promised to help urbanize San Jose’s largely industrial North Side by bringing 1.5 million square feet of office space and 3,000 residential units to 30-plus acres of farmland at Seely Avenue and Montague Expressway.

Acharya’s North Side proposal was met with enthusiasm, but a 2006 legal agreement between San Jose and Santa Clara halted housing development in the area.

Though Acharya wasn’t the only developer hoping to build more housing in North San Jose, officials’ talks to adjust the 2006 agreement seemed to ramp up after the SiliconSage proposal arrived, an indicator of the excitement and focus around the project.

And while most developers seek to steer clear of the heated battles between San Jose and Santa Clara, Acharya showed up to a January 2020 Santa Clara City Council meeting to urge leaders to find common ground with their neighbor, rather than head into mediation over whether San Jose could build more homes on its northern edge.

He appealed on a personal level to Santa Clara council members. “I’m trying to not feel like the child of divorced parents fighting each other,” he told them.

Acharya’s public posturing as peacemaker, however, belied the private battles he waged over his company’s viability.

By the time the pandemic hit in early 2020, Acharya could no longer hide SiliconSage’s financial woes. His unconventional approach became a liability.

In the eyes of federal regulators, Acharya’s reliance on financial backers of primarily South Asian descent signaled an “affinity fraudster,” a con-man preying on a group with whom he shared common ground.

The SEC complaint casts his promises of big payoffs as false claims of “exorbitant returns” when he knew the company hadn’t turned a profit since at least 2016. In reality, according to the SEC complaint, SilconSage operated more like a pyramid scheme. Acharya says in court filings the SEC has it all wrong.

If even one of the SEC’s accusations proves true, it could turn out to be one of the South Bay’s biggest financial scams, one in which several of the region’s most prominent elected leaders unwittingly played a role.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

22 Comments

  1. Not a surprise here. As I mentioned before, these types of white collar criminals aré insiders of these social circles, all part of shaping a decent person image. They contribute to political campaigns under their own names or someone else’s name. This way they have easy access to potential victims. The South Asian, East Asian, and Southeast Asian subgroups have collaborated together to place people of these groups in political and governmental positions. Members of these different ethnic groups have easy access to politicians and their favors. They call themselves just Asians, and claim to be the largest ethnic group in Santa Clara County. All these groups have different races, cultures, and beliefs. Most of the founders of extreme left progressive groups have been formed by Indian men too supporters of super extremist Bernie Sanders! These are the same people that did not want Kamala Harris as president or VP but Lee or Bass. This is the Democratic political scam! Now they pretend to be so proud of Kamala Harris. De Bug is one of these scam groups having more representation and presence in the Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services than the Latino and the White low SES groups in this county. Santa Clara County has been victim of White collar crime because of the greedy politicians we have placed in office. Recalll Liccardo, Rosen, and break Google and Facebook up! Then our county will start to heal from these political scam!

  2. > As I mentioned before, these types of white collar criminals aré insiders of these social circles, all part of shaping a decent person image.

    > Santa Clara County has been victim of White collar crime because of the greedy politicians we have placed in office.

    FEXXY:

    You might want to point out to your Democrat friends and associates that “white collar crime” has nothing to do with “white privilege” or “white supremacism” or “white skin privilege”.

    Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson are all capable of being white collar criminals despite being “non-white”.

    The fact that Hunter Biden is both “white” and “a white collar criminal” is just a coincidence.

  3. Yes, Bubble…White Collar crime has nothing to do with being a White person. It has to do with sophisticated big time crimes committed by individuals with more influence by virtue of close connections to public officials, politicians, having money to engage in direct and indirect bribery, and having the means to get away with crimes and continue the victimization of individuals, groups, and communities. It is also a crime of all political levels and parties. For this, the true patriotic people are not pro Democrats or Republicans but pro the people and pro United States. I have supported Kamala Harris not because she is part Black or part Indian but because she is a well-prepared person for the Offices she was head of. She is a pro the people and pro United States person, so was John McCain…Cindy McCain. I am a Centric Democrat. I go after anyone who engages in corruption and inflicts pain in people…This includes my own family which I have reported to the government too when I had to!

  4. Twitters volume seems to be down fifteen percent or so.

    Is that because there’s now fifteen percent less news to report and comment on?

    Or is it that there’s the same amount of news but fifteen percent of it isn’t getting through?

    Which fifteen percent?

  5. SJOUTSIDETHEBUBBLE,

    Does it matter if traffic is down 15% on twitter?

    Isn’t the goal of these forums to be QUALITY and not QUANTITY?

    Also that 15% might be posters that were violating the terms of use anyway, so in effect GOOD RIDDANCE.

    In any case, just like Elizabeth Holmes, any “white collar” crime MUST be prosecuted equally at all times. In effect throw the “BOOK” at them, make them accountable for their actions.

    Like Donald Trump

  6. One must give due when its due…

    Ms. Wadsworth and Ms. Bitters swept up more than a few in to this little dragnet.

    tip o hat

  7. > In any case, just like Elizabeth Holmes, any “white collar” crime MUST be prosecuted equally at all times.

    Name some big time Democrats or Democrat donors who were “prosecuted equally at all times”?

    Two systems of justice:

    One for Democrats, one for everyone else.

    Have the Clinton’s been prosecuted for their bogus “Clinton Foundation”?

    Has Obama been prosecuted for “Fast and Furious” or for “Crossfire Hurricane” and spying on the Trump campaign, and for “unmasking” people illegally?

    And, oh yes, Hunter Biden and “the big guy”.

    Two systems of justice.

  8. Dear Community,

    For some reason the Inclusion of Councilwoman Carrasco is missing.

    The Alum Rock area was set to receive not One but Two Projects from this unscrupulous shyster.

    What never gets mentioned or asked is – how much, if any Donations went to Carrasco, her Campaign, or Pet Project Events such as National Night Out from SiliconSage or their representatives?

    The reason for these questions is two fold:

    A. What was the relationship between the Councilwoman and her District 5 Office and the SiliconSage Scammer in relation to the Two Developments on Alum Rock Avenue?

    B. SiliconSage promised to meet with the Community at a later date, after the meeting that was taken over by Labor. which they did very quietly.
    However, from that Community General meeting SiliconSage Promised to meet with our individual Neighborhood Associations, Plata Arroyo and Mayfair. We want to know what the Working Connection was between the seemingly Crooked Developer and Carrasco who represents our Neighborhoods [poorly].

    Unfortunately, Carrasco does not communicate with Plata Arroyo or Mayfair, where these Two projects reside.

    Our questions remain:
    01. When was contact with the City first Documented
    02. When was contact with Carrasco first Documented
    03. What Departments were Contacted
    04. Who spoke with Siliconsage in Each Department
    05. What was the different Topics of Discussion in each of those meetings
    06. Where are the Cities Official Topic of Discussions – Notes of Conversations both in person
    records and Phone Call Records as well as All Electronic Communications
    06a. Are there recordings
    06b, How do we acquire them
    07. How many times did District 5 Council Office have any Contact with SiliconSage
    08. Who in Carrasco’s Office Spoke with SiliconSage at each instance
    08a, What are the meeting Dates Dates
    09. Where did the meetings take place
    10. Where are the Official Meeting Discussions – Notes of Converstions both in person records and
    Phone Call Records as well as All Electronic Communications
    10a. Are there Recordings
    10b. How do we acquire them

    These are just the start of questions that we have.

    In Community Spirit,
    Danny Garza

    President
    Plata Arroyo Neighborhood Association and EastGate N.A.C.
    with
    Guadalupe Gonzalez

    President
    Mayfair Neighborhood Association and Mayfair N.A.C.

  9. Don’t forget that future mayoral candidate Raul Peralez cozied up to Acharya too when Peralez runs for that office.

  10. SJOUTSIDETHEBUBBLEyou wrote:

    “Name some big time Democrats or Democrat donors who were “prosecuted equally at all times”?”

    Not a good argument because I don’t care whether they are dems or reps, they all must be booked in my view. Look at John Edwards, Rob Blagojevich, Ed Buck, and others. You assumed that no Dem was charged or convicted. The irony is that Donald Trump commuted his sentence. You wrote:

    “Have the Clinton’s been prosecuted for their bogus “Clinton Foundation”?”

    Beginnig in 2015 there was an investigation but even in 2019, there was no evidence to indicate wrongdoing. So they were not left free by any means they were investigated for more than 4 years. You wrote:

    “Has Obama been prosecuted for “Fast and Furious” or for “Crossfire Hurricane” and spying on the Trump campaign, and for “unmasking” people illegally?”

    “Fast and Furious” was settled in 2019, they were not left “free” either. “Crossfire Hurricane” has been investigated for years and no evidence was produced to warrant a prosecution, even with William Barr in charge of the DOJ.

    Simply put, you are just throwing anything up on the wall to see if it sticks, but all of your material is made of rubber and it bounces.

  11. Hey Danny, Wow, all good questions! You know the saying: “Lo que se ve, no se pregunta.” However here is the answer for one of your questions. What is the relationship between SiliconSage and Carrasco? Answer: x = Scammer (Carrasco) Y = Scammer (SiliconSage) x+y= 2 [email protected] [email protected] SCAMMERS! Perales: “La misma burra pero revolcada.”

  12. Jennifer and Janice, I urge you to investigate who this SiliconSage scammer contributed to, what when, and for how long. This news need a follow up. Good job women!

  13. > there was no evidence to indicate wrongdoing.

    Of COURSE there was no evidence.

    There’s never any evidence if you don’t look for the evidence or don’t see the evidence.

    As sure as the sun rises in the morning you can assume that any investigation of Democrats by “an independent, non-partisan investigator” is fixed.

    “Independent” Special Counsel Robert Mueller had “connections” to FBI Director James Comey who had connections to . . . Brennan . . . academics who leaked to the New York Times . . . the deep state . . . etc, etc.

    It’s the way things work on politics/media.

  14. SJOUTSIDETHEBUBBLE,

    I guess you also believe in the UFO files conspiracy, the “Men In Black”, the black silent helicopters flying over our homes?

    Unless you have evidence, you make allegations with NO PROOF.

    Classic Qanon thinking.

  15. > but all of your material is made of rubber and it bounces.

    You could be right.

    I’m just a tiny little inconsequential pissant and no one listens to me.

    But I DO wonder why the government and STEVEN GOLDSTEIN want to crush me and silence my tiny little squeaky voice.

  16. “Don’t forget that future mayoral candidate Raul Peralez cozied up to Acharya too when Peralez runs for that office.” Good to know.

  17. > Beginnig in 2015 there was an investigation but even in 2019, there was no evidence to indicate wrongdoing.

    HAHAHAHA!

    “There was no evidence”!

    That is a very famous Hillary Clinton line.

    The reason that there is never any evidence is that the Democrat establishment always arranges for any crucial investigation to be done by Inspector Clouseau, assisted by Sergeant Schulz.

    In the most recent impeachment of Trump the Democrats had: “No process, no investigation, and no witnesses”, according to Mark Levin.

    That basically equals NO EVIDENCE.

    Yet Trump was impeached on the basis of Facebook and Twitter gossip, hearsay, and speculation surrounding an antifa false flag political stunt.

    Who needs evidence?

  18. SJOUTSIDETHEBUBBLE you WROTE:

    “I’m just a tiny little inconsequential pissant and no one listens to me.

    But I DO wonder why the government and STEVEN GOLDSTEIN want to crush me and silence my tiny little squeaky voice.”

    Actually, please keep it up, I just feel like I am bowling and you set up the pins for me to hit with the bowling ball of accuracy and truth, so I want you to express yourself. You wrote:

    “Yet Trump was impeached on the basis of Facebook and Twitter gossip, hearsay, and speculation surrounding an antifa false flag political stunt.”

    You cannot claim Gossip as long as it is documented and being captured from a validated source. In effect a “Screen Capture” from any web page is documentation.

    You cannot claim Heresay when there is ANY documented proof of the allegations from a validated source. Just realize that as long as people post what they do, it is public records.

    Speculation is a god argument in opposition, but there are so many “social media” posts especially from reputable sources that can eliminate that claim. In effect the “Social Media” system turns out to be a perfect “Eyewitness”

    Are you saying that the assault on the Capitol was from an Anti-Fa group, the one that said, we were following Trumps instructions on video?

    When you add all of the above together you have legally acquired EVIDENCE.

  19. SJOUTSIDETHEBUBBLE you WROTE:

    “I’m just a tiny little inconsequential pissant and no one listens to me.

    But I DO wonder why the government and STEVEN GOLDSTEIN want to crush me and silence my tiny little squeaky voice.”

    Actually, please keep it up, I just feel like I am bowling and you set up the pins for me to hit with the bowling ball of accuracy and truth, so I want you to express yourself. You wrote:

    “Yet Trump was impeached on the basis of Facebook and Twitter gossip, hearsay, and speculation surrounding an antifa false flag political stunt.”

    You cannot claim Gossip as long as it is documented and being captured from a validated source. In effect a “Screen Capture” from any web page is documentation.

    You cannot claim Heresay when there is ANY documented proof of the allegations from a validated source. Just realize that as long as people post what they do, it is public records.

    Speculation is a god argument in opposition, but there are so many “social media” posts especially from reputable sources that can eliminate that claim. In effect the “Social Media” system turns out to be a perfect “Eyewitness”

    Are you saying that the assault on the Capitol was from an Anti-Fa group, the one that said, we were following Trumps instructions on video?

    When you add all of the above together you have legally acquired EVIDENCE.

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