Multiple former colleagues of Vikrum Aiyer—who Mayor London Breed nominated for a key commission overseeing San Francisco’s homelessness response—say the explanation he gave for lying on federal expense reports and inflating his education credentials should be seen as yet another red flag.
Aiyer, a 37-year-old tech executive in the city, filed roughly 130 false expense reports and passed off personal expenses to taxpayers while serving as chief of staff at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) from 2014 to 2016, according to an Inspector General’s report. In a statement, Aiyer said he made “a grave mistake” and attributed his actions to the immaturity of being “one of the youngest Chiefs of Staff of a federal agency in my 20s.”
But multiple people who worked with Aiyer in Washington, D.C., suggested in interviews that his actions were far more nefarious than he’s now acknowledging. Former colleagues described him as a career climber who takes credit for others’ work and develops powerful political connections to advance and insulate himself.
When reached for comment about Aiyer, a common response was a long laugh and the question: “What did he do now?”
Patrick Ross, who served as the USPTO’s chief communications officer and was a member of the department’s executive committee with Aiyer, told The Standard on Thursday that he was the subject of the inspector general’s investigation after Aiyer signed Ross’s name on taxi expenses.
“What he did was not just a mistake,” Ross said. “He would not have signed my name or my colleagues' names to those cab slips if he thought what he was doing was legitimate. He clearly knew it wasn't, and he put me in the crosshairs of the inspector general.”
Another high-level career public servant who worked with Aiyer said that many in D.C. were “furious” with him over the scandal.
“That was not a mistake,” said the source, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. “That was deliberate and fraudulent. It was a repetitive pattern of behavior.”
Aiyer made more than $15,000 in impermissible charges over a four-year period ending in 2016, according to the inspector general’s report. The expenses included fraudulent taxi rides, bar and restaurant tabs, dry cleaning bills and other personal charges during his time at the agency. Aiyer also overstated his educational credentials on a resume he submitted for the political appointment, claiming he had a postgraduate degree he did not receive.
Ross said he told investigators he did not take the taxi rides and didn‘t know who signed his name. He was instructed not to share any details about the investigation. But in trying to find someone who would have his back and explain the situation to the White House, Ross said, he unknowingly confided in the very person who had implicated him in the illegal activity: Aiyer.
“At the time of the investigation, I only told one person in the agency and that was him, because he was our agency’s liaison to the White House,” Ross said. “I was telling him these things in confidence, not realizing he was the culprit.”
Aiyer, who did not respond to requests for comment for this story, was referred to the Department of Justice for a criminal probe that was not pursued. He left the USPTO in early January 2017, before the transition of power between President Barack Obama and Donald Trump. This sudden departure struck some in the office as odd—especially given the important role he held as the No. 2 in charge—but it could have been to avoid ongoing scrutiny from the DOJ.
“People are expected to stay until the switchover for proper transfer of institutional knowledge,” a source said. “He was chief of staff of a major federal agency, so he has an obligation in part to make sure there is a transition.”
Ross recalled a work party at the end of 2016 in which he gave Aiyer a gift, still unaware of his role in filing the false expense reports.
“I considered Vikrum a friend and gave him a bottle of Don Julio Añejo during the end of the administration,” Ross said. “I regret handing over my favorite tequila to someone who had done this to me.”
In the years since Aiyer left D.C. and came to San Francisco, he has accumulated wealth and influence.
He worked at Postmates for more than four years as the vice president of global policy and communications, according to LinkedIn. During this time, Uber acquired Postmates for $2.65 billion, and many employees who held stock were handsomely rewarded. Aiyer’s rise in local political circles would soon follow.
Aiyer, who was appointed to the mayor’s Workforce Investment Board in 2019, made five political contributions for a total of $950 from January 2018 through February 2020, according to city campaign records. Following the Uber acquisition, Aiyer’s political activity surged in the next two years, as he made 24 different political contributions for a total of $14,110.
He twice gave $250 contributions to Breed’s 2023 reelection committee and supported all of her preferred candidates last year—supervisors Matt Dorsey and Joel Engardio, and District Attorney Brooke Jenkins.
Another high-level source in local politics said it is well known that Aiyer has aspirations to eventually run for office and he has been attempting to curry support from other elected officials in San Francisco.
In April 2021, he left Postmates to take a job as a deputy director with the American Civil Liberties Union. During this time, he wrote an op-ed in the Chronicle noting his role at the civil liberties organization while backing Breed’s public safety crackdown in the Tenderloin. Aiyer’s employer rebuked him in tweets following publication of the piece, saying his views were not the ACLU’s official stance.
The Mayor's Office defended Aiyer in a statement on Wednesday, saying he explained his past issues and Breed “accepted that he owned his mistakes and has learned from them.”
But in talking with people who worked with Aiyer at the nation’s capital, it seems he may still be offering a more palatable version of events than what really transpired. On Wednesday, he told the San Francisco Chronicle that it was “just a mistake” when he stated on his resume that he had received a postgraduate degree. A source who worked with Aiyer in D.C. disputed this version of events.
“He told all of us he had a master’s [degree] from George Washington,” the source said.
Aiyer’s nomination has supporters in San Francisco, as several nonprofit leaders came out Wednesday in support of his work in the community, especially with South Asian and Arab-owned small businesses during the pandemic. Even his jilted past colleagues acknowledged he is “very compelling and charismatic.”
But the suggestion that Aiyer’s actions were simply a misunderstanding because he was immature struck many as off the mark.
“Vikrum was young when he had that position, and that is not uncommon in Washington among political appointees,” Ross said. “Every administration brings in young people. He came back from the White House to be chief of staff [of the USPTO]. One would think anybody who has been in the White House would be mature enough to know right from wrong.”
Josh Koehn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org