Wednesday 29 January 2020

Oprah internet mogul gets year in jail in domestic violence case

Gurbaksh Chahal, pictured in April at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco (San Francisco Chronicle/AP)
Gurbaksh Chahal, pictured in April at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco (San Francisco Chronicle/AP)
The San Francisco Superior Court judge has given Chahal time to appeal against her ruling

A Silicon Valley internet mogul who sold his start-up business for 300 million dollars (£233m) at 25 and appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show as a highly eligible bachelor has been sentenced to a year in jail for violating his probation in a domestic violence case.

But Gurbaksh Chahal, 34, will not immediately begin serving the sentence because San Francisco Superior Court judge Tracie Brown cited questions about the evidence while giving him time to appeal against her ruling.

Judge Brown determined last month that Chahal had violated the probation ordered after he pleaded guilty in 2014 to misdemeanour charges of battery and domestic violence battery.

Prosecutors said surveillance footage from his San Francisco penthouse showed him punching and kicking his girlfriend more than 100 times and trying to smother her with a pillow.

Chahal entered his plea to the reduced charges after the woman stopped co-operating with authorities and a judge said the video could not be used as evidence because it had been obtained improperly .

He was accused of violating his probation by kicking another girlfriend, who also did not co-operate with prosecutors.

Chahal said both women had cheated on him, according to prosecutors.

Chahal's lawyer James Lassart said in court on Friday that his client was denied his right to question the woman during his probation revocation hearing when she failed to attend the proceedings.

"In this instance, the constitution requires that my client be allowed to confront his accuser," Mr Lassart said.

Judge Brown allowed the penthouse video to be admitted as evidence in the probation hearing and she reviewed it privately before issuing her ruling last month.

Mr Lassart said the judge should not consider the video in her sentencing because it had previously been ruled inadmissible.

The footage has not been played in court or made public.

Assistant district attorney O'Bryan Kenney called for a sentence of 18 months, saying Chahal had shown no remorse and committed a second act of violence just months after his domestic violence conviction.

"He clearly didn't get the message," Mr Kenney told the judge.

Chahal made 300 million dollars in 2007 when he sold his digital advertising company to Yahoo. A year later, he appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in a segment that highlighted his success and promoted him as a highly eligible bachelor.

Chahal's legal woes extend beyond the criminal case. Two former employees have sued him for discrimination, painting him as a bullying boss who thought little of women.

Patricia Glaser, the lawyer representing Chahal in the lawsuits, did not return messages seeking comment and an email to Chahal's online advertising technology company, Gravity4, was not returned.

Faced with the initial domestic violence charges, Chahal got help from powerful former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown and the former chief financial officer for the state of California Steve Westly, according to one of the lawsuits and emails between Mr Westly and Chahal reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Mr Westly, who was on the board of a company Chahal founded, suggested the businessman reach out to Mr Brown, according to a 2015 lawsuit by Yousef Khraibut, a former Gravity4 employee.

Chahal told Mr Khraibut that he paid Mr Brown a 250,000-dollar retainer to exert pressure on the district attorney to dismiss the charges, saying Mr Brown had the "juice" to make them disappear, the lawsuit said.

Mr Brown did not return a message left at his law office.

He said in a radio interview last September that he was asked to put together a legal team to defend Chahal but did nothing unethical and returned most of the money.

Mr Westly, whose name has been mentioned as a possible governorship candidate in 2018, said he did not comment on ongoing legal cases but added that domestic violence in any form was inexcusable.

In court documents, Chahal said Mr Khraibut was sacked for not doing his work and was seeking publicity.


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