Business executive Suraj Viswanathan is banking on what he believes is his strong business record and dark-money free campaign to nab him a Milpitas City Council seat this November.
But his business past has raised some questions among community members and past clients. It’s stirred the ire of Santa Clara County officials, too: Viswanathan, 38, and his former moving company, AVL Moving Systems, has amassed over $370,000 in litigation and multiple state and federal complaints, along with a handful of small claims cases.
Viswanathan, however, said his campaign has nothing to worry about.
“A character assassination attempt,” he said of the cases in an interview with The Beat. “The information was out there two years ago but no one said anything. I think people who are running right now are just playing dirty politics, because they see me as a threat, which I understand.”
According to Viswanathan, all the court cases have been settled, and nearly all of them came from disgruntled customers who failed to follow the terms found in their service contracts with AVL.
“We did 20,000 to 30,000 moves a month,” Viswanathan said. “With that many cases, there’s bound to be some human error.”
“Moving is a very, very tough industry,” he added. “When you have such a large company, you’re going to have court cases and disagreements with people. All the cases have been settled outside of court.”
Clients have taken to Yelp paint a different picture. One past AVL client, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed the company damaged furniture during a move from central California to the Bay Area. He claimed Viswanathan’s company initially quoted him $600 for the move, but when movers came to his house, they demanded to be paid $1,100.
“I stated Suraj agreed that I would only pay $600 now and the rest later, but the team lead replied that if I didn’t pay them he would drive off with the [furniture] back to their yard,” stated the client in an email to The Beat. ”The team stood in our apartment and refused to leave until they were paid. I felt threatened and told them we could have the police on-site if they would not leave my home. They stood in our living room for almost 20 minutes without speaking to us or leaving.”
The client eventually took Viswanathan to small claims court where the client won, but not before Viswanathan’s representative missed a handful of hearings.
“I had even hired a professional process server to serve them the claims paperwork and the server reported that Suraj’s team was evasive, but they were indeed served,” the client alleged. “Due to AVL’s failure to show, we were awarded a judgment of over $2,500, but could not collect on it due to us having to travel down to the Bay Area, just to have an AVL representative fail to show again.”
“I sincerely hope someone like him does not get the chance to continue to decide on policies while collecting a taxpayer-funded salary,” the client added. “I can’t imagine how much he owes customers in damages.”
The complaint is a sample from a seemingly similar pattern of complaints levied against AVL: A customer hires AVL, is greeted on moving day by a third party claiming to be contracted by AVL, uses inexperienced workers, destroys furniture, upcharges customers, and denies responsibility. And when Viswanathan gets wind of it, they claim, they’re met with a dodgy representative from AVL who settles with the client.
However, Viswanathan has denied all such claims. He alleges many of the bad reviews are from customers who called in last-minute, making large moves more complicated to coordinate.
“Our basic estimate on the phone is for three hours if you’re moving anywhere in California,” he said. “If you get two more guys, that’s three hours for $300. But if you ask us last-minute, we can’t get it done in three hours, and everyone knows that.”
The terms of each move, he said, are printed at the bottom of each agreement.
AVL is also attached to a case alleging an unpaid lien of over $377,000. Viswanathan has defended his company, which he has now disbanded, saying the lien is a result of a misunderstanding with payroll company ADP.
According to Viswanathan, AVL had an agreement with this payroll company. ADP was tasked with filling IRS form 941, which employers use to report income taxes, social security taxes, and Medicare taxes withheld from employees’ paychecks. He said ADP failed to file the form before the IRS-mandated deadline.
Without receiving the form telling them that AVL had closed, the California EDD kept charging payroll taxes to the company.
“When they [the EDD] found out the company was closed, they just tacked the taxes on the officer who was in charge of the company, which was me,” he said.
Viswanathan and his attorney are currently working in the court system to clear the lien, which he chalks up to the above-explained misunderstanding.
Viswanathan has faced increased scrutiny of his business record after accusing councilmembers of making “backroom deals” and committing “misappropriation of funds” in a Facebook video recently released to the public.
“Campaign contributions are being exchanged without being reported,” he claimed online.
At one point, he also mentioned that “councilmembers” ran “so-called nonprofit foundations” to funnel donations, and claimed, “state investigations have been launched into questionable campaign spending by councilmembers.”
Although Viswanathan did not mention any councilmember by name, the only councilmembers who seem to fit his allegations include Vice Mayor Bob Nuñez and Councilmemebr Anthony Phan. Nuñez is currently the only councilmember who is president of a nonprofit, while Phan was investigated by the Fair Political Practices Committee for allegedly misrepresenting a $43,000 campaign loan.
“Any candidate that seeks to challenge the status quo will be attacked by the ugly underworld of smears,” he said in the video, before pledging to clean up alleged city corruption if elected.
As for his own business past, Viswanathan claims a leg up on his detractors:
“If you look at [Facebook founder] Mark Zuckerberg, he has a bunch of cases. Does it make him a bad person? I don’t think so and I won’t agree with that. Go look at big business people; they all have a bunch of cases, but they’re all related to their companies. It’s not personally against them. And I don’t have anything [cases] personally against me.”
Viswanathan is currently the owner of ProCricShop on N. Milpitas Boulevard.