In 2009, Perrin along with his wife (Rachel Jane Clark) were convicted in a USA court in connection with a case involving their then US employer (Sonoma Sausage Co.) for, among others:
- Receiving and being in possession of stolen property
- Identity theft
- Over twenty counts of forging cheques
Interestingly, the couple never contested the charges and plead guilty on all counts. For this, Perrin and Rachel were put on five years probation and a payment plan was worked out on how they would repay the owner, Vince Sharp.
One would think this would be the last time that the Clarks would encounter the wrong side of the justice system having been convicted, but it seems like it didn't stop there as can be read here (customer complaints about a pork farm they ran) and here (a juice making company they ran which customers and employees labeled a scam).
Also, it is slightly difficult to gather information on, specifically Perrin, the Clark's historical business dealings in the USA because of how they would go under different (unofficial) first names.
Given all this, it seems that at some point Perrin made the decision to explore possibilities on the continent, specifically, Kenya's technology ecosystem.
Founded in 2013 by Martha Chumo (Njeri) when she was 19 years old, The Dev School in Nairobi as Martha explained in an interview, was aimed at creating makers out of Kenya's youth instead of them just consuming technology products. Martha goes on to elaborate that through teaching African youth how to make mobile applications, the school's aim is to create employment for them and at the same time create solutions in different fields such as agriculture, health and education.
"Our mission is to equip the youthful African population with the skills and resources to compete and be successful in the modern world by building mobile applications that revolutionize industries.” - Martha Chumo, Founder of The Dev School Kenya
This was somewhat a story made in heaven, a fairy tale of sorts so far; a Kenyan teenager founds a software development school to teach fellow youth programming in a bid to alleviate youth unemployment and hopefully inspire some to start their own technology based businesses. It actually played out that way, in Martha's words from the same interview
"I have since been amazed of the impact this program has had on the lives of the young people with whom we work. Our alumni have gone ahead to get jobs as junior developers. The more entrepreneurial ones have built mobile apps that have won local competitions and could start at local startup hubs." - Martha Chumo, Founder of The Dev School Kenya
You don't have to take Martha's word for it, take this review by one of the alumni in Nairobi:
"The Dev School has really changed my career life! I never knew how to code prior to my admission but can now take pride in the many real-world prolems i can solve using the coding skills imparted to me by the very dedicated Dev School instructors and the whole fraternity! I will never be the same again." - Harrison Kamau, Full Stack Developer
At this stage it is also important to mention that The Dev School was not registered or formed as a company but rather as an "Association". As such, it's official (legal) name is the "Nairobi Developers Association" and it is widely known as, and trades as, The Dev School.
Being an association in Kenya, nobody owned shares as such with Martha as the Founder and Chairman, and Perrin having been appointed as CEO in July 2015.
Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between The Dev School and Perrin Vidal Clark which formed the basis of his appointment as CEO.
The Dev School also had employees on payroll in various roles to help it fulfill its day to day operations, these ranged from trainers, business development staff and other support staff.
Added to this, and quite important to this story, The Dev School being an association, through Martha, enlisted the services of some of the people she knew and trusted as advisors to herself on all matters related to The Dev School.
Key Management & Advisors of The Dev School as confirmed by some of the management and advisors as of 2015
Quick note: Both Jessica Colaço and Erik Hersman used to serve as Directors at The iHub.
The role of advisor as far as The Dev School is concerned was somewhat that of a trusted "consigliere", looking out for the (best) interests of both the Founder and The Dev School. As Shikoh Gitau explained in communication with iAfrikan:
"I have known Njeri (Martha) since before the Dev School, and she did pick my brain as she was setting up. She considers me her mentor, and hence I have been an advisor to the Dev school in that capacity." - Shikoh Gitau, Technology Innovation for Inclusive Growth Lead, African Development Bank
The same point is echoed by Josiah Mugambi when he told iAfrikan that "Njeri considers myself, Erik Hersman, Shikoh Gitau-Nyagah and Jessica Colaço some of people she reaches out on occasion on matters related to The Dev School."
All was good.
Students were enrolling for courses that The Dev School offered and advisors were happy to contribute their time and be associated with the school.
Until matters escalated rather rapidly from Perrin's appointment in July 2015 as CEO.
Pesa Itaingia Lini Mkubwa?
Keep in mind Perrin took over the role of CEO in July 2015.
By end of September 2015, approximately (I use the word approximately as we could not confirm the exact date he commenced his duties as CEO in July 2015) a month or two after his appointment, it is alleged that some staff members (if not all) were not paid their September 2015 salaries.
As if that wasn't enough, that continued into October with that month's salaries not being paid up until somewhere around middle to third week of November 2015 when various staff allegedly started increasing the pressure on then CEO, Perrin, to provide answers.
One such staff member is Mugo Muna, who was then responsible for business development but then took over as Interim CEO of The Dev School. Mugo, like others, was growing tired and sent Perrin an e-mail copying others in the company (a snippet of which he shared with iAfrikan).
E-mail communication between Mugo Muna and Perrin Vidal Clark regarding unpaid salaries.
Seeing that Mugo had copied several people on the e-mail (this is based on Perrin's response to the e-mail above), Perrin, despite apparently having handled all previous salary related inquiries via e-mail, told Mugo he should have rather called.
Given the timeline of events and having spoken and communicated with several people (some on the basis of anonymity) close to this matter and given the date of the above e-mail exchange, I can somewhat safely say the above e-mail is the proverbial shit that hit the fan because it all went downhill at "lightspeed" from there.
At this stage also, we can confirm that the Founder and Chairperson (Martha) had been in the dark about staff not being paid (or even being hired). She only discovered this on 20 November 2015 when Mugo approached her after he was unhappy with the answers Perrin was providing as he (Mugo) told iAfrikan that
"We had a telephone conversation where he (Perrin) said I was just an employee". I was kind of mad so I reached out to Njeri, the founder of The Dev School, to see if she knew about all of us not being paid. She did not." - Mugo Nuna, (former) Iterim CEO, The Dev School
Not only did Martha not know, so too the advisors who only heard of this as soon as Martha told them during November 2015.
Worse still, no one (staff, advisors, management, Martha) knew about Perrin and his wife's previous convictions and scams in the USA.
It is important to note that a simple Google search on Perrin Vidal Clark would have yielded enough results on the first page that should have warranted further investigation. It astonishingly seems that no one in management or the advisors did this.
(I bet you just Googled yourself) 😉
Hearing the stories about staff not being paid, Martha immediately contacted all her trusted "consigliere". At the same time, Mugo made the above discovery about Perrin's criminal record somewhere between the 20th and 24th of November 2015.
According to Josiah Mugambi, this is how events unfolded once Martha got in touch with him over the four days of 20 - 24 November 2015
"We were not knowledgeable about this issue (Perrin not paying staff and criminal record, initially) until Njeri asked us to intervene. At this point Perrin was immediately suspended as CEO of The Dev School by Njeri." - Josiah Mugambi, Executive Director at The iHub
This is corroborated by Shikoh Gitau when she told us
"I only found out when Njeri pinged me to ask for help and advise on how to handle the matter, especially given Perrin criminal record. We met shortly with Josiah Mugambi and a lawyer, who advised we suspend Perrin, we suspended him immediately and requested him to hand over all documentations, including the domain registration back to Njeri and the acting CEO Mugo." - Shikoh Gutai
Great, the criminal (Perrin) has been suspended for an investigation to be carried and a final decision to be taken, right?
At this point Josiah explains that "I took on the role of arbitrator alongside Shikoh, and later requested Prof. Bitange Ndemo to come in as a neutral third party, while everyone else was kept away from the details on that to let them have space and time needed for the process."
First, arbitration assumes a dispute between two or more parties. In this case, there is no dispute. In speaking to various people, sources and those involved, at no stage it seems did Perrin pose a fight or refuse to vacate as CEO, so, why the arbitration?
Second, I quote Josiah again for emphasis "everyone else was kept away from the details"...what follows as a reason after this statement ceases to be relevant, at least in my humble and limited opinion, because as a trusted "consigliere" it is one's duty to look out for the interests of those you are "counselling" (advising) and withholding critical information like this surely goes against that.
Also, who are the others?
How long was this critical information about Perrin withheld from "others" given that it has only started surfacing (slowly) publicly now in March 2016 at least as iAfrikan started probing for answers?
Also, why withhold this from "others"?
It gets more interesting. When it comes to advisors, we approached each advisor and asked them specific questions we needed each of them to answer. Only Josiah Mugambi and Shikoh Gitau responded. Jessica Colaco, despite communicating with us and sending us her contact details, is yet to respond. Erik Hersman, according to Josiah, is said to be travelling (understandable) and "will be slow in responding", he has not responded. But what I couldn't wrap my head around what followed from Josiah
"Erik has not been involved in the arbitration. As in any arbitration process, the accuser shows proof, then it’s up to the accused to show clear evidence to the contrary. That process took longer than expected as each party took a while to get their information in order. Once this process is complete, a recommendation will be made regarding the next steps. Regarding the $20k loan (promissory note), during the arbitration process, we confirmed that this money was never sent."
The first part about Erik was not solicited.
Why do I point this out?
I didn't ask who was present at the arbitration, Josiah (corroborated by Shikoh) had already explained who initiated and was part of the arbitration, and lastly why is he singling out Erik (BCRK) as not being part of the arbitration and not, say, Jessica?
All is not bad in Silicon Savannah. Take for instance, The iHub has recently attracted an undisclosed amount of investment from a group of investors apparently with Miguel Granier leading the pack with the amount of money he is investing (through Invested Development. This shows that The iHub which has been key in the rise of Kenya's technology ecosystem is growing from strength to strength, or is it? Tweet
Anyway, the promissory note that he mentions is what got us investigating this matter. A snippet of which was leaked to iAfrikan.
This involves what seems to have been a scam by Perrin where first he said the funds would be for The Dev School in Nairobi but as the note states, they were for a fake (non-existent) organisation called "The Dev School USA". Furthermore, the funds, once approved, were to be allegedly deposited into Perrin's personal bank account in California!
Needless to say this scam was thwarted and the money was never paid.
What Happened To Nairobi Developer Week?
Sometime during 2016, Nairobi Developer Week was to take place. This event was being organised by none other than Perrin Vidal Clark. This, seeing that the website was taken down, you can easily corroborate by checking whois entries for Nairobi Developer Week with those of Perrin's other company, the same e-mail (Perrin's) appears as owner and administrator. Nonetheless, it was widely known that he was the key organiser.
When we started our investigation into the Perrin and The Dev School a couple of week's ago, it was confirmed that Twitter Africa and BRCK and others were the key sponsors of the event.
It also had enlisted some top speakers including several from BRCK.
Now, why did it take so long (March 2016) for the event to be cancelled given Perrin's criminal record and other matters coming to light (including but not limited to taking money from potential students and not having paid it back at the time of publishing)?
Josiah tried to explain
"The belief at the time was that this would be cleared up fairly soon. It wasn't until a further meeting was had with the arbitrators that the organizations were contacted and made aware of how incomplete the process was and the recommendation was made to not support this event, but to find someone else to support for the same purpose."
There was hope that this "would be cleared up"?
At this stage it is starting to appear as if it was hoped that Perrin's criminal record and mismanagement of The Dev School could be swept under the carpet.
You'd think that such shenanigans were only the territory of big corporate companies like the latest one involving Vodacom South Africa, but alas!
The largest debt incurred illegally by Perrin as CEO of The Dev School is for $16,500 to Strathmore University. An agreement he entered into without consulting with or getting permission from the school's Founder and Chairman or any of the management or advisors.
The agreement, which only exists as a series of e-mails, was to mainly cover The Dev School's use of Strathmore University for delivering courses run by The Dev School.
Alarm bells should have also started going when one discovers that none of the staff (read all of The Dev School staff) hired by Perrin had any signed contracts or agreements! It was all a series of e-mails, once agreed, they pitched for work.
As a result, The Dev School owes Strathmore University (which continues to chase Martha for payment) $16,500 and much more to staff in unpaid salaries for work done.
If You See Fraud
At this stage you start asking yourself who knew what, and when did they know, and what did they do because as the well known Antifragile author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, says
"If you see fraud and don't shout fraud, you're a fraud." - Nassim Nicholas Taleb
As Martha (Njeri) puts it (in a message shared on a public messaging group), "in November, I came in when all this had happened between Sept and mid Nov. I got the board (advisors) involved and suspended him as CEO."
That is correct.
All the advisors and staff were personally contacted by Martha during the period of 20 to 24 November 2015. We have corroborated this with several sources and this raises the question again what did Josiah Mugambi mean when he said that details regarding #PerrinClarkGate were kept away from "others". From various sources, it can be confirmed that most staff and all advisors knew what was happening regarding Perrin Vidal Clark by latest 25 November 2016.
It gets worse when you also discover that Perrin stole money from students who thought they were registering for courses with The Dev School. This is something also Martha (along with the Interim CEO, Mugo Muna) discovered accidentally as student started sending them messages. Several students had sent Perrin course registration money via M-PESA but they had not been registered for any courses with The Dev School and never heard back from him.
"In December, I got a series of tweets, emails, facebook messages from people who had m-pesad him for the classes and wanted their money. They sent me all the details. I called those who reached out." - Martha Chumo, Founder of The Dev School
The total amount (known) that Perrin stole and hasn't returned to Kenyan students who were supposed to start with The Dev School on 4 January 2016 is over $800.00.
Worse, all these amounts were paid by the students to Perrin's personal M-PESA account and not to The Dev School.
There's this student,
and then this one,
also this one,
and the list (of known students who have come forward) goes on and on. To his credit, Perrin promised the students too that he'd repay them and also offered to go an extra mile as can be read below.
The problem is the refunds have not happened despite Perrin's promises, mostly because (according to some sources) he wants the founder, advisors and management of The Dev School to promise him the following (which it seems was the reason for the arbitration):
that they send him a signed apology professing that he has done no illegal activity and that they (if they did mention any of his wrongdoings to anyone) also send the said apology to such people stating that prior communications were in error.
they will not slander him in public or to anyone regarding what happened.
That at this stage (January 2016) the advisors and everyone else involved in the arbitration process is entertaining Perrin's demands is absurd. To justify not refunding students, several sources state that Perrin said he used the money for company expenses proof of which he has yet to provide!
As if that wasn't enough, he also managed to steal money from Janine, a student from the United States who had heard about The Dev School and was keen to stay in Kenya to complete a course with the school.
The initial amount sent by Janine to The Dev School (read Perrin, will explain shortly) was $900. With more to follow and at the time of publishing we couldn't establish whether she did pay more or not.
This interaction flagged something that would only be discovered later as you will see shortly.
Then the red flag comes that Janine didn't pick up or suspect. Only later would Martha discover more of Perrin's criminal ways involving PayPal. But before we share the message that should've raised red flags for Janine, how's this from Perrin to Janine in the same e-mail thread?
Why is this being flagged you might ask?
Because as soon as Perrin had been appointed as CEO, he went on to register thedev.school as a separate domain from which he created e-mail addresses for staff and others related to the school as well as created PayPal accounts for the school through this domain too. Now Paypal has sophisticated fraud detection systems in place and they picked this up early on.
As they say on informercials;
The Dev School was also the ambassador (Kenya) for Africa Code Week. For being ambassador, Google gave The Dev School $250. But it was sent to Perrin's personal account.
Also, The Dev School ran a hackathon in partnership with Devs Without Borders called Break Poverty. Devs without borders sent two payments to cover expenses for this, namely 640 Canadian dollars
and a further 2,000 Canadian dollars respectively.
But here's the problem, suppliers for the hackathon, ranging from caterers to t-shirt providers were not paid to name a few as Perrin allegedly took the money.
With some of the suppliers, apparently the situation got so fierce that one of the executives stepped in and e-mailed The Dev School's management and advisors.
Therein is part of the main issue. We have established that Perrin is a criminal and that he allegedly swindled money out of The Dev School and those associated with it, but what did the advisors do?
From late November up until the time of publishing this, all that has happened is arbitration for a situation where there is clearly high probability that there's several victims (The Dev School, Students, Suppliers, The Dev School Staff, etc.) and only one person "taking" money from them, Perrin Vidal Clark.
Wouldn't it have been better to take this matter up with the police and let them investigate?
All is not bad in Silicon Savannah. Take for instance, The iHub has recently attracted an undisclosed amount of investment from a group of investors apparently with Miguel Granier leading the pack with the amount of money he is investing (through Invested Development).
This shows that The iHub, which has been key in the rise of Kenya's technology ecosystem, is growing from strength to strength, or is it?
Cover Image, Perrin Vidal Clark at Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda | Carnegie Mellon University Rwanda