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.