Thursday, January 15, 2009
Pakistani-American: Mr. Thirty Percent of Silicon Valley
Most people are familiar with the moniker of Mr. Ten Percent bestowed on Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. Now meet Mr. Thirty Percent, Ausaf Umar Siddiqui, a Pakistani-American in Silicon Valley, who is accused of receiving illegal kickbacks of up to 31 percent from vendors of Fry's Electronics.
According to San Jose Mercury News, Siddiqui, the son of a Pakistani diplomat, was a computer salesman who rose through the ranks to help build Fry's Electronics into a giant retailer over the last twenty years. He is now facing allegations that he defrauded the San Jose company out of $65 million, much of which he used to pay off enormous gambling debts in Las Vegas.
Fry's Electronics is a specialty retailer of software, consumer electronics, computer hardware and household appliances with a chain of superstores headquartered in Silicon Valley. Starting with one store located in Sunnyvale, California, USA, the chain now boasts sales of $2.4B with 34 stores located in several Western states, two near Atlanta, Georgia, multiple locations in Texas, and one each in Illinois and Indiana. Often described as geek central, Fry's stores employ a large number of South Asians and other immigrants in various capacities throughout their stores in Silicon Valley, CA.
Siddiqui, who goes by "Omar" and was Fry's vice president of merchandising and operations, appeared in federal court in December, where prosecutors filed a complaint alleging he masterminded a "secret kickback scheme to defraud Fry's Electronics of millions of dollars."
Siddiqui persuaded Fry's that the company should eliminate sales representatives on his accounts, and instead, he would act as a middleman between vendors and Fry's. He promised that he would save the company a lot of money that way. But instead, the complaint alleges, he ended up charging exorbitant commissions — up to 31 percent, or ten times the usual amount — to the vendors, which he funneled to his own straw company, PC International, according to San Jose Mercury News.
A 42-year-old bachelor, Siddiqui has expensive tastes and a serious gambling problem. He was known around the office for driving fast cars, carrying wads of $100 bills in his pocket and boisterously rooting during sports events he watched on the four TV screens in his office. He spent $162 million in three years at the MGM Grand Casino and Las Vegas Sands Casino, according to his bank statements detailed in the complaint written by IRS Agent Andres Gonzalez. Siddiqui owns a luxury condo in Palo Alto, a Mercedes and a Ferrari, and he used to fly into Las Vegas frequently on Fry's corporate jet. He had a long list of demands for the hotel staff (who called him Mr. S) during his frequent visits to Las Vegas hotel casinos. He demanded Aramis cologne and badger hair shaving brush. Lint-free towels. Dom Perignon Rose champagne and Kurosawa Sake in the fridge. And never, under any circumstances, approach him from behind. If the hotel staff didn't want to face Mr. S's wrath, maids knew to arrange bowls of Glitterati Mentissimo peppermints adorned with a single rose throughout his suite, and to stock his shower with Nioxin shampoo for "fine and thinning hair." White vases were a no-no — he considered them bad luck.
There's a saying in America: Nothing is certain but death and taxes. No one can fool the Grim Reaper and the Tax Man. Like others before him, Siddiqui seems to have been nailed by the IRS, America's feared tax collectors who were tipped off by one of Siddiqui's colleagues at Fry's.
Allegations against Omar Siddiqui have been getting a lot of local media attention in Silicon Valley, California, since his arrest in San Jose a day after Christmas. However, with the exception of a few isolated instances of immigration and terrorism charges after 911, the news of Pakistani-Americans getting in trouble with the law is rare. There have been a few instances of white-collar crime involving alleged violations of the SEC rules. The vast majority of the estimated 500,000 Pakistanis in the United States are legal immigrants with about a half of them with citizenship status. Highly educated with many in professions such as medicine and engineering, Pakistani-Americans are a very affluent ethnic group whose median household income is 62% higher than the national average.
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