ADRIAN CHEN | Gawker
When TechCrunch founder turned venture capitalist Mike Arrington was accused last week of rape and abuse by an ex-girlfriend, many in Silicon Valley were shocked, but not entirely surprised. This is because rumors that Arrington abused women have circulated almost from the time he started his career in the tech industry. Gawker has learned of two previous instances, a decade apart, in which Arrington was accused of violent, abusive behavior towards women. One--in which a coworker and ex-girlfriend accused him of assaulting her in a hotel room--resulted in an internal investigation by his then-employer. In the other incident, he allegedly threw a different girlfriend against a wall. Neither episode ended in any real fallout for Arrington.
Last week, entrepreneur Jenn Allen, who used to date Arrington, publicly accused him of physical abuse and rape in a Facebook post and in a comment on a subsequent Gawker story. The accusations have been much-discussed, at least in private, at least among the Silicon Valley elite, of which Arrington is a truculent but influential member. And it has opened the floodgates, as former friends and colleagues come forward with their own troubling stories about Arrington's past.
Arrington launched TechCrunch in 2005 and quickly became known as an important powerbroker in the hyper-competitive tech start up world. By 2008, Arianna Huffington was calling him "one of the most influential figures on the Web." Coverage on TechCrunch has typically been a coveted prize for new companies hoping to attract investors. And Arrington savvily used the blog as leverage to wedge himself into a position of power far exceeding even the most prominent tech-blog star. He developed a fearsome reputation as an unapologetic asshole who was unafraid to promise favorable coverage to those who helped him out. He was ultimately forced out of the site after stretching the boundary between journalist and insider by launching his own venture capital fund to invest millions in the very start ups TechCrunch covered.
Arrington began his tech career in 1999, leaving a job at prestigious Silicon Valley law firm Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati to work in business development at a new startup called RealNames, which hoped to replace complex web domain names with simple phrases. The first incident uncovered by Gawker occurred there: In late 1999, Arrington was investigated for allegedly assaulting a female RealNames sales representative, according to Cecile DeSmet Sharp, the director of human resources at RealNames at the time.
The accusation stemmed from a conference that Arrington and the coworker, along with a number of other RealNames employees, attended in the fall of 1999, Sharp said. According to Sharp and another source familiar with the allegations, the coworker claimed that one night during an altercation in a hotel room, Arrington violently threw her onto a bed and held her down so hard that she ended up with fingerprint bruises on her arms.
"I believe he threw her onto the bed. And she started kicking and he held her down really hard," Sharp told Gawker.
Soon after the conference, the coworker told Sharp what had happened and showed her bruises on her arm that she said were from the assault. "She felt very uncomfortable coming into the office with [Arrington] there," Sharp said. Sharp said she told RealNames VP of administration Jim Strawbridge and CEO Keith Teare about the incident, and an outside firm was called in to conduct an investigation.
The matter was complicated by the fact that Arrington and the coworker had been in an on-again-off-again relationship, according to Sharp, although they were not dating at the time of the alleged assault. The investigation reached an uncertain conclusion. Arrington was reprimanded, and a note about the incident was put in his file. But he faced no material punishment, according to Sharp.
"He got his hand slapped when it should have been something more," Sharp said. She believes he was protected by his close relationship with Keith Teare, RealNames' CEO. (Teare later co-founded TechCrunch with Arrington in 2005.) The incident was whispered about at RealNames, but when another former employee asked about it at the time, he was rebuffed and told that it was a confidential HR issue. "It was a scandal, just buried under the rug," the former employee told Gawker. "I was essentially told to look the other way."
A few months later, in the spring of 2000, Arrington left RealNames voluntarily, according to Sharp. He soon founded Achex, an internet payment company.
Cecile Sharp left RealNames the next year, partly due to the way they handled the incident. "I lost a lot of respect for the management team," she said. She's speaking out now about the 1999 incident because the disheartening similarity of Jenn Allen's allegations left her "sick to my stomach."
"This has to stop," said Sharp, now a 54-year-old sociology graduate student in Arizona who has a daughter in the tech industry. "If you're a parent and you have daughters, you don't want your daughters to experience this bullshit."
(The coworker who made the allegation against Arrington declined to comment for the record when reached by phone. Sources who corroborated Sharp's account would only agree to speak to Gawker on the condition that we withhold the coworker's name; we agreed.)
In 2009, ten years after the RealNames incident, Arrington was again the subject of rumors he'd assaulted a woman. This time the alleged victim was Meghan Asha, a well-known Silicon Valley socialite and entrepreneur who, according to a friend, had an on-and-off relationship with Arrington for three years, starting around 2007. On September 12th, 2009 Asha flew from New York City, where she lives, to San Francisco. This coincided with the start of the TechCrunch50, a Bay Area tech conference that Arrington organized with his former business partner Jason Calacanis.
On the last night of the conference, a group of attendees including Calacanis, former TechCrunch writer Paul Carr, and Loren Feldman were celebrating at an afterparty at San Francisco's 5A5 steakhouse. The group was having fun "drunk-dialing" various friends and tech personalities, when one woman Calacanis called brought the festivities to a halt: According to two sources familiar with the call, the woman, a good friend of Asha's, told Calacanis that Arrington had attacked Asha that night, throwing her against the wall in a hotel room.
"It was all in good fun and [Calacanis] is suddenly white with a somber face and he's doing a lot of listening," said a person who was with Calacanis during the call. "When he hung up he basically said 'Holy Shit, Mike roughed up Meghan and she split.'"
"There was a call from [the friend]," Calacanis told Gawker. "But I don't feel comfortable discussing what she said."
Carr, whose company NSFW Corp. raised $25,000 from Arrington's CrunchFund, said he vaguely remembered the call. But "I have zero recollection of a conversation involving allegations of abuse. That doesn't mean the conversation didn't happen, of course."
The incident is hinted at in Asha's Twitter feed from the time, which showed her eagerly flying out to the conference from New York, only to return early and with a "breaking" heart.
It was the culmination of a turbulent day for Arrington. Earlier, he'd oddly failed to show up at an awards show that was supposed to be the highlight of the conference. Calcanis would later say the two had a fight that night that led to the end of the TechCrunch50 and their business partnership.
According to one friend, Asha openly shares with friends that Arrington had abused her--mostly emotionally, but sometimes physically. "I've heard it straight from Meghan that Arrington abused her, and she did mention the wall-shoving incident," the friend told Gawker. In tech circles, rumors have circulated about Asha and Arrington for years, but she has never publicly addressed them. "I know she's previously stated that she wants to put the whole thing behind her as the reason why she won't come forward," said the friend.
Arrington has not responded to repeated requests for comment. Asha declined to comment as well. Keith Teare, the former CEO of RealNames, hasn't responded to a Facebook message.
Update: In a Facebook message, RealNames' former CEO Keith Teare confirmed that Arrington was the subject of an accusation and investigation, but said he was found to have done nothing wrong and was not reprimanded, as Sharp claimed.
Mike was indeed the subject of an accusation at RealNames. As is normal in these circumstances an outside party was hired to conduct an investigation. This was extensive and I was never directly involved in it as I was not a witness to any events. The investigation concluded that there was no behavior to answer for. Mike was never reprimanded in any way. Both parties asked for confidentiality and to date this has been honored
Given the outcome of the investigation and the mutual desire for confidentiality I am shocked and disturbed that a former HR professional can both disclose the information and also get the fact wrong
[Image via Getty]
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