Remember the messy corruption scandal that was roiling SF City Hall before the pandemic arrived? Well, it hasn't gone away, and today federal prosecutors unsealed bank fraud charges against former SF Building Inspection Commission member Rodrigo Santos, who was already being sued by the city attorney.
We learned of the City Attorney Dennis Herrera's charges against Santos back in mid-March, stemming from a series of checks made out to the Department of Building Inspection that Santos had allegedly altered and fraudulently deposited into his own account. It's a silly, egregiously baldfaced set of accusations — Santos is accused of taking checks made out to "DBI" and writing in his name to spell "RoDBIgo Santos," ultimately taking nearly a half million dollars that would have gone into the city's coffers.
The checks added up to nearly $480,000.
As the Examiner reports, an FBI investigation that was apparently inspired by the city attorney's found that Santos had deposited 261 of these checks into his account between January 2016 and March 2019. He was booked on federal bank fraud charges early this morning at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, and he's currently being held on a $100,000 bond.
Herrera's office issued a statement Tuesday saying, "We’re pleased that our investigation and civil enforcement action has led to criminal charges against Mr. Santos. Our office works tirelessly to make sure that those who abuse the law are held to account — no matter their position. Our case against Mr. Santos exposed both how he undermined public safety and how he defrauded his own clients. Our team developed a detailed case against Mr. Santos, and I'm glad the U.S. Attorney's Office used that information to help build their criminal case." He added, "I applaud the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office for taking criminal action against him, and I especially want to thank the investigators and attorneys in our office for their meticulous investigation into Mr. Santos' wrongdoing."
Santos's arrest is just the latest shoe to drop in what may continue to be a sprawling investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office into what some have described as "low-level corruption" that has permeated San Francisco City Hall for decades.
The scandal's roots go back decades, but it emerged with the January arrests of Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru and his associate and alleged co-conspirator, local restaurateur Nick Bovis. The details of the investigation quickly led to heat falling on the Department of Building Inspection relating to the long-delayed 555 Fulton project — about which the city attorney issued 14 subpoenas on February 27. By March 10, Department of Building Inspection Director Tom Hui had been placed on leave by Mayor London Breed over accusations that he had given preferential treatment to well known local construction project "expeditor" Walter Wong. The city attorney's suit against Santos arrived just three days later.
Nuru and Bovis remain charged and under investigation for public trust fraud and other complaints, and City Hall watchers have suspected that neither man was the ultimate focus of the U.S. Attorney's probe.
Photo via Santos & Urrutia