VTA Kept Board in the Dark About Sexual Misconduct Claims Against Prominent New Hire

The manila envelope had no name and no return address.

When it arrived in the mail last Tuesday, San Jose Councilman Lan Diep opened it to find old newspaper clippings and an unsigned letter stuffed inside.

“Takis Salpeas is a sex offender,” the anonymous note alleged. “His predatory behavior is widely known in his industry. Top executives have witnessed it.”

As a member of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) board of directors, Diep joined his colleagues in a unanimous vote to put Salpeas in charge of the long-delayed BART extension to San Jose’s Berryessa station. But VTA made no mention of any misconduct claims during the hiring process, so they came as news to Diep.

Last summer, VTA hired an executive search firm to find someone to get the Silicon Valley BART project back on track after Chief Planning and Engineering Officer Carolyn Gonot left the agency. Out of the four finalists, VTA opted to go with Salpeas—who boasts three-plus decades of experience managing transit projects around the world.

But the letter received by Diep on March 10, brought to light troubling old allegations against the transit pro. According to a 2001 story from the Washington Times, the D.C. Metro paid more than $100,000 to settle with a female employee who accused Salpeas of trying to kiss and grope her without her consent. The report describes how the woman kept a detailed log of the sexual harassment, which allegedly occurred between mid to late 1999, and had to resign from her post as part of the legal settlement.

A few months later, the Washington Times reported that Salpeas got tangled up with yet another lawsuit—this time from a subordinate who accused her ex-boss of discriminating against her because of her race and religion. A federal jury ultimately sided with Salpeas.

VTA spokeswoman Brandi Childress said the agency “takes allegations of harassment seriously and were certainly aware of the claims against Mr. Salpeas.”

“He was thoroughly vetted and we learned that those matters were resolved without finding of fault against him,” she added. “We also discussed the allegations with him, in line with our internal hiring process as we would vet any VTA employee or contractor, before moving forward with the staff recommendation to the Board.”

When asked whether the allegations were disclosed to board members, Childress acknowledged that they were not because that’s not “standard practice.” “Mr. Salpeas has worked for other public and private agencies since these allegations were made 20 years ago, all coming to the same conclusion to hire or retain his services,” she said.

In an emailed to San Jose Inside, Salpeas declined to comment on the specifics of the old lawsuits, but said he recognizes that “harassment and discrimination do not belong in the work place, or any place for that matter.”

“I am guided by that principle in leading an effective team to deliver one of the most important transit infrastructure projects for Santa Clara County,” he added.

Salpeas’ contract—which tops out at $3.1 million—lasts for three years and includes an option to renew for two additional one-year terms.

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

14 Comments

  1. No one and I mean no one, in my opinion, is worth $3,000,000 for anything. With the market crash let’s see how well the county and cities like san jose will crash throwing away money.

  2. If this man did these things he should not be in another position of authority. The people that knew about it but still hired him should be investigated also.. They should have disclosed everything. This is why our state has so much corruption.

  3. How do you keep a board in the dark?

    Chairman was Teresa ONeill who loves to attack the 49ers but fails to represent the citizens.

    Board Member Magdalena Carrasco

    Gee. Maggie has some many people in her background who like to touch and feel.

    When you care, you make it a point not to be kept in the dark.

    • Important to review the ‘malicious obedience’ type response to last years Civil Grand Jury at https://www.vta.org/sites/default/files/2019-09/2019-09%20VTA%20Response%20to%20CGJ.pdf

      The response fails to address key points, but instead plays the victimhood card. Where’s the legal opinion that the board is prevented from seating an unqualified appointee? And the risible claim that the $450 million Eastridge tram extension was due to a ballot vote. Guess who sponsored it? Read it and weep.

      It’s akin to the youngster that pleads for mercy after killing his parents because he’s now an orphan.

  4. Disgraced former Morgan Hill councilmember Larry Carr sits on the VTA board. Carr was convicted of drunk driving after drifting into the opposite lane. His victims were so seriously injured that they were airlifted for treatment and sustained permanent injuries.

    Carr was previously convicted of domestic violence. He narrowly escaped another conviction in August, 2019 after his female victim refused to testify despite a threatened contempt citation by the trial judge. She subsequently left Santa Clara County after what appears to be a payoff to remain silent. See https://morganhilltimes.com/charge-dismissed-in-carr-domestic-violence-trial/

    Faux women’s rights advocate and VTA chair, Supervisor Cindy Chavez has declined to remove or censor Carr or rectify the numerous VTA issues.

  5. Incompetent group of people. Google his name and the first hit is the court settlement. No wonder why they can’t get anything done. Hire consultants to borrow your watch to tell you the time.

  6. The entire San Jose City Council (for the most part except a few) is a joke. Come on taxpayers…Pay attention to your delegated staff; overpaid, under- educated, selfish and corrupt!

    • Regarding your analysis of the current city council: have many council meetings have you attended or watched on line? How many times have you gone to Council meetings or Rules Committee meetings and testified? How many emails have you sent to Council members? How many letters have you written to them? How many calls have you made to their offices? How many face to face meetings have you had with them or their staff members? I have done all those things for years. The majority of them are decent folks trying to do their jobs. Yes, one is an arrogant, very childish person. Another has no spine and automatically sides with the Major. But most of them are not “jokes.” Get involved and try to fix what you don’t like.

  7. Another clear example of inept government bureaucrats and their equally inept agency board of directors throwing hard earned taxpayer money down the rathole. Wasteful, pathetic, and unacceptable. Nobody is watching out for the taxpayer.

  8. Takis Salpeas is a similar personality to Donald J Trump, his ethics are the same and his loyalty to his staff is the same. If anyone crosses him, he will attempt to bury you. One day you are his favorite, the next you are lower than dirt. I know as I worked for him for nearly 12 years.

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