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Indian American in Legal Tangle
‘Vin’ Gupta went out of his way to favour Clintons
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

A prominent Indian American is at the centre of a lawsuit which claims he wasted his company's money trying to “ingratiate himself” with former President Bill Clinton and senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Nebraska-based Vinod "Vin" Gupta, who started infoUSA, one of the United States’ top provider of consumer databases and marketing solutions, allegedly provided his company’s jet to fly the Clintons to a family vacation in January 2002 to Acapulco, Mexico, at a cost of $146,866.

"During the next four years, infoUSA paid Clinton more than $2 million for consulting services and spent almost $ 900,000 to fly him around the world for his presidential foundation work and to fly Hillary to campaign events," the New York Times reported today.

The lawsuit has been filed in a Delaware court by angry infoUSA shareholders.

In an interview to this correspondent some years ago, Gupta, who counts Clinton among his close friends, said, "We both love to play golf, smoke cigars and tell jokes." He also had the honour of spending a night at the Lincoln bedroom in the White House during the Clinton presidency.

Gupta said it was Hillary who suggested that he stay over after a late night at the White House. "Who wouldn't want to stay at the White House?" he asked with a laugh. But one night in the Lincoln bedroom was enough to disillusion him. "I wouldn't want to stay there ever again. Everybody is watching you," he added.

Gupta, an alumnus of IIT, Kharagpur, also spent time at Camp David with Clinton.

The Clintons reimbursed him for a leather jacket he had gifted the President. "I don't know what the big deal was," Gupta said of the controversy over gifts to the President. His friendship with Clinton goes back to a 1993 fundraiser in Washington.

The disclosure of the trips and the consulting fees is just a small part of a broader complaint about the way Gupta has managed his company, the New York Times reported.

The paper reported last Sunday that an investigation by the authorities in Iowa found that infoUSA sold consumer data several years ago to telemarketing criminals who used it to steal money from elderly Americans. It advertised call lists with titles like "elderly opportunity seekers" or "suffering seniors," a compilation of people with cancer or Alzheimer's disease.

The company called the episodes an aberration and pledged that it would not happen again.

"InfoUSA's troubles come at an especially awkward moment for Hillary, since Gupta is among a loyal coterie of reliable fundraisers whom she would be expected to turn to as she pursues the Democratic presidential nomination. He has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Clintons’ campaigns over the years, and has donated $1 million to Clinton's foundation," the Times reported.

Before leaving office, Clinton appointed Gupta to the board of the Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts. Earlier, Clinton had nominated him for two minor ambassadorships, which Gupta declined because of business commitments.

"Vin has done a very good job over the years finding ways to get connected," said Stormy Dean, the chief financial officer of infoUSA and one-time candidate for Governor in Nebraska, where the company is based. "I don't know whether he has ever got anything out of his connections in politics," Dean told the Times.

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