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Salwan, Yelp and the Fremont City Council

By Matt Artz
Thursday, December 16th, 2010 at 1:01 pm in Uncategorized.

If you read my story in today’s paper, you might have scratched your head reading the last three paragraphs. They’re about candidate Raj Salwan having threatened to sue at least two former customers who wrote negative reviews of his veterinary business on Yelp.

I pushed hard for this to be its own story in today’s paper. But the paper was concerned that it would appear that we were only targeting Salwan of the six candidates, so it was cut and tacked on at the end of a broader story.

I’m going to provide below some of the documents I have and explain why I thought the lawsuit threats were important to be in the paper before the council votes tonight. If you read just one of the documents below, I would recommend the first one on the left. But first a few things in defense of Salwan:

  1. Salwan has a clean record with the state veterinary board.
  2. Yelp has been criticized for its practices
  3. If the posts were inaccurate, Salwan’s only legal recourse was to sue the people making the comments. An attorney I spoke to said Yelp has no legal obligation to take down the comments.
  4. Salwan says he regrets threatening his former customers and that he now has “thicker skin.”
  5. Salwan never did sue them.

So why was I fighting so hard to get any of this in today’s paper? Let me list the reasons.

1) If Salwan is going to be on the City Council, he’ll face a lot of criticism. How Salwan deals with criticism is something the council should take into account in considering him for the job. What if Salwan is on the council, and someone wrote a letter to the editor about him in The Argus. Would he threaten to sue the letter writer? Would he threaten to sue the paper? How about an anonymous blog commenter?

2) In these instances, Salwan threatened to file lawsuits to silence people whose opinions he disagreed with. Would that be an appropriate action for council member?

3) This was not a single isolated instance three years ago. The first lawsuit threat I have documented below came directly from Salwan in 2007. The second one, written by his Virginia-based lawyer, came in July of 2009. If Salwan now says he was wrong to make the threats, it’s a very recent change of heart.

4) Salwan is not a small businessman who’s at risk of going under from bad Yelp reviews. According to county records, Salwan owns or co-owns 19 properties with a total assessed value of more than $15 million. He’s wealthy man. And if you get a letter from someone with his resources threatening to sue you, there is reason to feel intimidated.

So why now, the day of vote for the new council member?

I’ve been sitting on my Salwan file for more than a year. I didn’t write a story about the negative Yelp reviews because it would have been very difficult for me to determine their accuracy, just as it would have been very difficult for Salwan to prove they were libelous.

As for the letters threatening to sue his customers, as long as Salwan remained a relatively private citizen, I didn’t see the need to publish them.

But City Council is an important post. And once Salwan became a finalist for that job — and one of only three finalists to have the backing of all four council members — I thought this was important information for the people making the decision.

Had I had similar information about the other finalists, I would have printed that as well.

The documents are below. The first one on the left is Salwan’s letter threatening to sue a former customer. The next two are addressed to an elderly Hayward man offering to reimburse him medical costs if he took down his Yelp review. The Hayward man declined. The last three constitute a letter from Salwan’s attorney in Virginia threatening to sue a different former customer, who had posted negative reviews on Yelp.

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  • VOR

    Didn’t this vet clinic also release a dog to an unknown third party and it was never returned? Does anyone remember that? Seems like that happened in 2005-2006 time frame.

  • Audrey

    I don’t know Dr. Salwan beyond what I read in this blog. However, being an active yelp user myself, it seems a bit extreme to send a letter threatening someone who left a yelp review. I myself have left negative reviews for businesses, and if I received a letter such as the one above, I would definitely boycott the business. Anyway, I kinda believe those letters show what kind of person Mr. Salwan is. Not like I have a say (I’m just a lame Fremont resident whose vote for Mr. Bacon apparently means nothing), but I hope he doesn’t get chosen as the next city councilmember.

  • Robert

    This reeks of dirty politics and a hit job, especially the timing of it which happens to be on the day of the appointment.

  • ranger

    Oh relax robert. There has been a lot of martz bashing lately. But this article, as well as ones regardinging the disgusting actions of the Ohlone Board continue to prove that he is an excellent reporter who drives hard at finding out the truth. When he inserts some character into his posts we shouldn’t throw tantrums about how his reporting is opinionated. If you don’t like it go read the tri city voice or the fremont bulliten. I enjoy this blog, and for all the moaning and groaning some people on here do, they must as well because there’s a reason you keep coming back.

  • Eddie S.

    Robert,

    I don’t think Artz is doing an attack job here. He presented both sides of the story and explained why he felt he should publish it now. The comments on yelp aren’t very flattering to say the least.

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/american-animal-care-center-fremont

  • Charlotte Allen

    Reporting facts is not a “hit job”, no matter how unpalatable to some those facts might be.

  • Gautam

    I actually agree with Robert– the perfect timing of the article reeks of underhandedness with the goal of influencing the vote tonight. Mr. Arzt’s heart seems to be in the right place by attempting to do right by the people of Fremont, but this sanctimonious tripe justifying why he thought this story was deserving of our attention simply distracts from what is really going on here: he is selective about who he sheds light on and sits on information (for over a year) so that it could be used at an opportune time. Has there ever been an effort to shed light on the practices of the Dutra family? If you need a reminder, the famous developer family also has a candidate up to bat tonight. Has there been an analysis of whether Mr. Dutra can effectively perform his duties as a councilmember when he stands to gain or lose from the decisions of the council? This is just depressing.

    I really hope that the council can make a fair decision tonight based on who the best person is for the job (it remains to be seen who that is), and isn’t swayed by these kinds of tactics.

  • Fazlur Khan

    Robert,
    It seems your psyco and shocks treatment is still going on.

  • Gautam

    Wow, Fazlur, you must have some expertise in “psyco” and “shocks” treatment.

  • Fazlur Khan

    Gautam,

    I understand you have to be under them for 2 more weeks.

  • Gautam

    Hmmm… why 2 weeks? Is that when you’ll stop posting on this blog?

  • Swalsh

    Wait. Why would they not appoint the person who got the most votes during the last election after Harrison and Anu? Or consider only that candidate and the candidate who came in third in the election prior to that? Wouldn’t that be what the people of Fremont would want? Wouldn’t that be the democratic way to do it?

    As for Salwan’s veterinary practice, I read through the Yelp posts and was stunned to see how parallel those descriptions were to my own first hand experience with my dog. He had a simple eye infection and they wanted to keep him overnight, put him on an IV, put him under general anesthesia, do a probe of his eye and thereby charge me over a thousand dollars! I refused and insisted they give me a simple antibiotic, which of course cleared up the infection in no time. Isn’t it standard practice to perform the least invasive procedure that given the circumstances would have the most likely success at curing the problem? Rather than going to the extreme and essentially doing surgery (the probe)?

    Needless to say, I’ve never brought my dog back. I consider that practice highly unethical. If I wouldn’t want the proprietor looking after my dog, would I want him making decisions that affect my community? It’s distressing to me to think he’s even being considered.

  • Alan Merriam

    One should note that Yelp has *87* reviews on American Animal Care. The average rating is 1.5 stars. That is very very low for Yelp rating.

  • west

    Salwan’s Obliviously is a bully with money, why give him more power to bully the residents of Fremont.
    Who appointed him to the Planning Commission?

  • VOR

    Dr. Salwan is not on the COF Planning Commission.

    Interesting to note that he considers being a columnist for the Bay Area News Group his profession (according to a professional networking site).

    • Community Advisory Working Group Member at Alameda County Transporation Commission
    • Board of Director at Fremont Chamber of Commerce
    • Board of Directors at Abode Services
    • Owner at Companion Animal Hospital
    • Board of Director at Kidango
    • Columnist at Bay Area News Group
    • Chairperson, Human Relations Commission at City of Fremont
    • Veterinarian at American Animal Care Center

  • Tri-City Dweller

    Gautam – way to go. You’ve got it right. I will “second” everything you have posted over the last few days.

    Very observant – keep it up!

    Matt Artz – again, shame on you for posting this rubbish. This is a new low, even by your standards. Cheap, petty, and pathetic.

    You never cease to disappoint.

  • Fazlur Khan

    The politicians cum businessmen of India did the same unethical practices like Salwan in Australia. The Australian employers found that 40% of the diplomas of the Indians were forged. Therefore there was a back lash against the Indian and majority have go back.
    They come from very poor background and do any thing to make money, when exposed. run away to their country to have good life.

  • west

    Thanks Matt Artz, good reporting, keep it up!

  • billybob

    Hey Fazlur, help me out. What do you mean that “politicians cum businessmen of India”? And are you insinuating that Dr.Salwan has a phony degree? I would.be careful with that kind of talk about Raj. He has a history of not letting any disrespectful coments go. He’s not Kathy, Nina, or any other woman. This is.a proud professional man that won’t take any crap. Be careful Fazlur.

  • Fazlur Khan

    Learn lesions from Australia. America is ready for frauds
    loot and deceptions.

    ” Truth is bitter”.

  • http://fcnisbacon.wordpress.com Marty

    Thanks for this post, Matt. After such a horrible personal experience with Salwans practice, the yelp conflicts, and from talking with other pet owners, it is a relief that he was not an actual contender.

    What’s even more satisfying is that the corrupt way in which he has run his practice, reflected accurately on yelp will prohibit him from ever holding public office.

  • Robert

    If anything is corrupt, it is Yelp’s extortion practices. Google it to find out for yourself. Marty, you are part of the right wing agenda. Everybody on here knows that about you, so give it up. It’s a shame Matt takes on 1 candidate, but leaves out dirt about the other 5 candidates which everyone already knows, but Matt fails to address. It should be an equal opportunity thing. Salwan is a stand up guy, and time will confirm that. Salwan has the most successful practice in California, and he’s got many disgruntled competitors whose business has been affected. Anyone can post anything on Internet forums like Yelp. The good news for Salwan is that he’s well vetted now so he’s got nothing to hide. That is less than we can say about other candidates including Marty. It would be premature to count him out, even for someone on the opposition party like Marty.

  • Fazlur Khan

    Marty,
    I like your appropriate and valid comments. Thanks

    Matt,
    Good ethical journalism. You are the Bob Woodward of Bay Area. There are few other thugs and bullys who have held the people of Fremont as hostages who are deep involved in corrupt practices, they should also be reported about. I sault you.

  • bbox231

    Given that the original claims of the Yelp’ers have remained little more than hearsay evidence and given that even Artz states that these claims are still ” . . .very difficult for me to determine their accuracy” – it would seem that the “concerns” Artz offers as reasoning for resurrecting of this old news seems potentially without any merit whatsoever. . . .

    For example – is Salwan “thin skinned” – if the Yelp claims were without merit ??

    Even Argus editors felt some concern over the proposed standalone article Artz wanted to run . .. and for good reasons.

    The timely reporting of verified facts is good journalism.

    The publishing of hearsay and unverified claims is simply more gossip.

    When the release of sensational gossip is coincidental with the eve of critical decision making . . . . there is little room to argue its intention.

  • Tri-City Dweller

    Bbox231 & Robert –

    Thanks for your straight forward comments on this issue. This was probably one of most questionable moves Matt Artz has made. At some point, he is simply abusing his power as a journalist. Posting and publishing articles with unverified facts has got to be one of the most unethical moves a reporter can make.

    Matt, I am still at a loss for words over this.

    How sad: Artz starts this post by listing arguments in Salwan’s “defense”, which turn out to be the very reasons why he should not have run such an unfounded and irrelevant article.

    Please consider printing a retraction/apology and removing the original post from your website.

  • Chinmoy Roy

    “Yelp” issue is the tip of the iceberg. Has anyone wondered why Anu, a Indo-American with a very good feel of the pulse of the Indian community rated Salwan the way she did? After all, the Salwan’s contributed to her campaign, as they did to Bill’s. And then she goes and votes for Dominic when she refused to take any money from the Dutras and returned their cheques.

    With regards to Raj, there is a lot to be said but it is best that he be asked about his utterances and actions during the recent appointment. Matt, you are doing a good job. You exemplify “truth in reporting”.

  • VOR

    It’s my understanding, and I may be mistaken, this blog is not the online version of The Argus. It is the personal blog of Matt Artz. What he posts here is not what gets printed in the final newspaper story.

    The line does become blurred when a his post is associated with a hardcopy story. He has afforded us, the blog readers, the opportunity to view material he has gathered in preparation for filing his report to the newspaper. But, it is not necessarily incorporated in the final story.

    It is difficult at times to separate his official story from what is posted here, especially when the Inside Bay Area masthead sits at the top of the page. We are privy to more than the printed word.

    No retraction is required for his blog.

  • http://fcnisbacon.wordpress.com/2010/11/03/parting-gifts-for-election-losers/ Marty

    Robert, I feel that my pet’s treatment and the extortion by Dr Salwan that came with my experience was so extraordinary that if I were to share details it would reveal my identity to him (at least I hope it was that extraordinary).

    I understand the problems with making anonymous claims on the internet, but the “conspiracy” I have been directed to facilitate by the “right wing” does not include smearing veterinary doctors in Fremont, strangely enough (I mentioned it to Boehner, but he thought it was a stupid idea).

    And as far as issues with Yelp goes, I getchya. But his rating is SO dismal and the reviews mimic my experience so accurately that there is no doubt in my mind the despite his calming and measured facade, Raj Salwan is a callous and corrupt man who overcharges for services, recommends pricey diagnostics that are not required, charges 3-5x the market value for those diagnostics and takes advantage of people in dire predicaments.

    As far as Salwan’s success, competition and the notion that the Yelp reviews have been contaminated with lies from competitors – review Salwan’s lawsuit yourself. He makes no such claim. Instead, he pettily sues customers who he has failed in some way or another (leadership qualities, dontchya think!)

    Fortunately Salwan has gone out of his way to reveal himself as the jerk he is, and Yelp is the record for that part of him. And from he comments to this blog post alone, it is obvious that this part of his life will follow him forever, and in process, likely prevent him from ever holding public office. That is very satisfying to this disgruntled customer.

  • Robert

    Marty, yelp is only one review site, one that is obviously corrupt. Salwan’s practice has 4 to 5 star rating on other sites such as citysearch, google, etc. You are obviously a hater and you don’t provide any substantial details to make it genuine to pursue.
    Chinmoy, Anu rated Chugh last– what is your explanation of that?

  • http://fcnisbacon.wordpress.com/ Marty

    Robert, Citysearch yields no reviews for Salwan, and I find no other reviews other that Yelp from a Google search, not that I was expecting accurate information from you since you claim Salwan’s practice is the most successful in all of California!

  • Robert

    Although I don’t want to keep wasting time with you, since you ask here it is:

    Citysearch: http://eastbay.citysearch.com/profile/38551776/fremont_ca/american_animal_care_center.html?publisher=orbit

    Judy’s Book:
    http://www.judysbook.com/cities/fremont-ca/BtoB~Specialty-Animal-Services/28779328/p1/American_Animal_Care_Center.htm

    4 star on google

    and 4 star on google,etc

  • Chinmoy Roy

    I am not for personal attacks on Raj and his business or his business ethics. My problem is with the devious way TCDF/UDC operate causing them to get totally out of sync with the grassroots. When I asked some of the UDC bigwigs (obviously not Chugh since he was an applicant himself) on why they were supporting a less experienced candidate when they had folks like Dom and Judy also interested in the job, their answer was that it was because his father has donated a lot of money to the party.

    As the Yelp story was breaking, some us were witness to Raj’s reaction to the news that Dom decided to throw in his hat. After I read the Yelp story it helped me to understand Raj’s personality and the way he reacted to Dom’s news. He had his head in the clouds and the UDC had raised him so high, that he lost his sense of civility. He is cerrtainly not a chip of the old block. I have known his father long enough to think that his father would have called their Yelp folks, apologized to them and put them on something like free visit for an entire year” I would like to have a councilman who has the approach like his father does.

    And Robert, you have been waiting for my answer on the “Dom Dutra appoinment” thread. I have signed off from that thread as I indicated on my final post there. And here is my answer to your question on that hread: I am for getting the entire TDCF/UDC team out of there. Starting with Chugh since he is the chair, all the way down to the list that Spade posted. It includes John Smith, Trisha etc.

    As for why Anu rated Raj and Yogi last, you need to ask Anu that. As far as I know, when Anu was appointed/ran, she did not do so based only on the support of the Indian community nor was she annointed by the TCDF/UDC. She has been a very independent lady and the common Indian voter, 12,000 of them in Fremont admire her and support her for that. We Indians like independence. It is in our blood. That is what our history and our struggle against the British Raj taught us.

  • http://fcnisbacon.wordpress.com/ Marty

    Thanks for setting that straight, Robert. I suppose for Salwan to remain in business he must have many happy customers. That does not change the result from my experience or from others who obviously have a problem with his methods.

    Regardless of whether you accept the trend the Yelp reviews signal, Raj Salwan is the type of person who would sue ormer customers for voicing their opinions on his abilities and business practices. One can only wonder what tactics he would employ on those who disagree with his politics.

    Raj Salwan will never win an election in Fremont. He better hope to buy and appointment in the future.

  • bbox231

    #27 – That the entire article was run in the BLOG as opposed to in print, is inconsequential to the expressed concerns. Artz acknowledged that he advocated for the entire article to run – in print. In his own words he “..pushed hard for this to be its own story in today’s paper..” –

    #28 – So typical – - – let’s just pile on more steaming hot one-off and personal anecdotes to attempt to legitimize the original nonesense. Come on – the timing of this was- IMHO – questionable; the published facts are acknowleged by the author as questionable; and the Editor responsible had some degree of discomfort running the proposed story. You think *YOUR* additional anecdotes somehow modify those points???

    LOL !

    Any operating business concern which has NOT pissed off a customer (or 10); or has not run into the prospect of potential litigation; or, has not had to politely but firmly request some entity (competitor, ex-employee, or customer) to cease and desist – are amongst a very, very fortunate few – or likely too small to be of consideration . . .

  • http://fcnisbacon.wordpress.com/2010/11/03/parting-gifts-for-election-losers/ Marty

    Box, Let’s reject every post on Yelp for a minute, consider it all hearsay. Did Raj Salwan the Democrat file suit against Yelp? Did he accuse another Vet clinic of sabotage?

    Nope. He was so thin skinned as to reject every ideological staple of his Democratic ideology and instead tried to sue the little guy for disparaging his cash cow. Salwan’s actions are far more defining to his character than a cease and desist letter.

    And, this is all regardless of the validity of the Yelp reviews. It is his own action, undisputed and admitted by the man himself to be a flaw.

    Perhaps you should heed Chimnoy’s sentiments about local Democrats being ideological zombies otherwise aroused and directed by cronyism. Raj Salwan exemplifies that concept very well. It’s your party old man.

  • bbox231

    Good thoughts, Marty – - – you align yourself w/whomever is expedient to your cause. . . and I’ll stand w/ the editor that rejected this trash in the first place . . . .

  • http://fcnisbacon.wordpress.com/2010/11/03/parting-gifts-for-election-losers/ Marty

    Who’s to say we don’t stand together then, Mr Box.

  • Robert

    Marty, give me a break. Cease & Desist letters don’t mean anything. It’s not a threat to sue, they are just meant to put people on notice.
    Here’s facebook & twitter:
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/American-Animal-Care-Center/40548497065

    http://twitter.com/AmericanAnimal

    Show me any small business with this many likes or followers of over 2,000.
    Marty you’ve already acknowledged on a previous thread several months ago that Yelp is corrupt and not to be trusted. Don’t make me dig that up and make a liar out of you.

  • bbox231

    #37 – that’s WAAAY too easy, Marty -
    *I* do – for reasons too numerous to list here.

    Let’s pretend that in “real” life you were Artz’ editor, the most extreme example of you and I “standing together” on this topic – - – - I can’t know that, and frankly, I don’t care, and that would be little more than cutsie nonesense on your part;

    I can only speak to that persona we all know and love as “Marty” – and based on *that* persona, if on this topic (or any other for that matter), you happen to have identified some peculiar alignment of our respecgtive thinking to have a momentary convergence of thought – it is either rare serendipity; political convenience,; or, a lapse in sanity by one of the two of us .

  • http://fcnisbacon.wordpress.com/ Marty

    Box, I’m just playing with your emotions. What kind of editor would finish post 37 without a question mark? A former sports editor perhaps, but not a real one.

    But, I meant standing together in aligning ourselves with whoever is “expedient to our causes”. That’s human nature my friend.

  • http://fcnisbacon.wordpress.com/ Marty

    Robert, you misunderstood my point. Raj Salwan’s aggressive actions in suppressing the opinions of those who disagree with him are a serious character flaw contrary to the Democratic principals Salwan claims to associate himself with. I think his actions are much more severe than just mailing a cease and desist letter as Mr Box tried to correlate.

    Raj Salwan – some people love him, some people hate him. Not too many in the middle. That strategy didn’t work out too well for the last guy.

  • http://fcnisbacon.wordpress.com/ Marty

    Marty you’ve already acknowledged on a previous thread several months ago that Yelp is corrupt and not to be trusted. Don’t make me dig that up and make a liar out of you.

    Oh Robert, no need to go looking for that Yelp comment — here it is.

    If you had more between the ears, you’d realize that my quip is with another hypocritical left wing windbag, “Eyesbright” saying that someone should be sued because of something they posted on the internet, which by the way sounds all to similar to Raj Salwan’s tactic. Is this what they teach you good Democrats at the TCDF meetings?

    So, Robert. I wouldn’t consider myself a liar by any stretch. If anything I am being completely consistent in my core beliefs, while you, Salwan and just about every other Demo-card-carying ideological zombie at the TCDF, readily sell out everything you claim to believe in for personal and political gain.

  • Robert

    Jim_Fremont is a genius and has already flagged problems with Yelp before it was an issue. Note that Marty happily agrees.
    http://www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat/2010/07/27/fremont-news-of-the-day-37/#comment-13327
    http://www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat/2010/07/27/fremont-news-of-the-day-37/#comment-13362
    The sources cited are credible and diverse, putting to rest that Yelp is not credible and is a corrupt complaint board. For an “extortion fee” they will police your reviews, otherwise good luck getting anyone.
    Folks get used to it This is our future– soon you will be reviewing your co-workers, bosses, neighbors politicians, teachers, judges, and hopefully, news reporters and editors of newspapers like the argus.
    As for loving/hating candidates Bush & Obama would also be considered to be loved by half and hated by the other half.

  • Chinmoy Roy

    Marty, I am restraining from stating Raj Salwan’s reaction to what he said when he first heard that Dom and Judy decided to throw their hat in the ring. And what is shocking is that the UDC continued to support him even after that. And they did so just because they wanted to satisfy their egos to be the centers of power.

    After all, they need to explain why it would take 10 of them “fix a leaky roof in their UDC office” when it takes just one of them to call a roofer to fix it and the 9 others could have been out there promoting the ideals of the Democratic party. Tri(sha) City Dweller and Raj Salwan and the UDC brass know what I am talking about when I cite “the leaky roof”. These folks are devious and need to give way to Democrats like Dom and Judy who decided to throw their hats in to rescue the party.

  • west

    This is why “Open Primaries” passed by the voters takes away the power of the Political Parties and puts it into the hands of the voters.
    This will help eliminate, the good old boy network, that has a strangle hold on Fremont politics.

  • Fazlur Khan

    West,
    “the good old boys clubs in Fremont ” have stifle the development of Fremont at the expense of thier personal gains.

  • bbox231

    #40 – A rather stilted and broad generalization (again) Marty, and one with which I do not agree . . ..

    specifically “..aligning ourselves with whoever is “expedient to our causes”. That’s human nature..”

    You are correct, but only for a specific class of character . . one which subordinates causes and pride and reputation to expediency – to name a few – I suppose.