The CEO of Boston-based Safr, a ride-hailing app that provides a “safer” alternative for women riders, was arrested last week on charges he embezzled $2 million from the U.S. Virgin Islands Government.
Syed Zain Gilani, 43, was arrested at the company’s Harrison Avenue headquarters on Friday and has agreed to be extradited to the Virgin Islands for his trial, The Boston Globe reported.
In the fallout, Gilani’s lawyer and Safr scrambled to distance the arrest from the Safr brand.
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“It’s got nothing to do with Safr whatsoever. That I can say categorically,” Gilani’s lawyer, Eoin Beirne told the Globe, and denied any wrongdoing on Gilani’s part.
Safr launched in Boston in March with plans to expand quickly to Washington, Chicago, LA and New York. The company bills its product as a women-focused ride-hailing app with predominantly female drivers and female passengers.
"Women make up less than 25% of drivers in the ridesharing space and make on average 34% less than men. Women routinely suffer harassment, both as drivers and riders. Female riders also get taken on 5% longer rides by unscrupulous drivers. This is unacceptable, and that’s why we started Safr," the Safr website says.
Gilani’s arrest isn’t getting in the way of Safr’s operations, according to Chief Marketing Officer Dana Córdova.
“Syed denies any wrongdoing. He is such a passionate believer in the Safr mission for which we are all very grateful,” Córdova told the Globe. “We fully support him, including any time he needs to deal with this legal matter.”
The Virgin Islands government has accused Gilani of running a scam business for three years with two other men.
Gilani’s business was supposed to implement federally mandated updates to identification cards like licenses, but Gilani and his partners allegedly just pocketed the grant money for the operation instead.
All three men face one charge each of obtaining money by false pretense, conversion of government property, embezzlement by a public officer, filing false instruments, falsification of public accounts, fraudulent claims upon the government, false certificate by public officers, and criminal influenced and corrupt organizations conspiracy, according to the Globe report.