The former head of the SF Department of Building Inspection Commission might be looking at life behind bars, as Rodrigo Santos just pleaded guilty Friday to a slew of bank fraud, wire fraud, and tax evasion charges that, all combined, could total a prison sentence of more than 300 years.
Arguably the single funniest aspect to the now George R. R. Martin-esque-in-scope Mohammed Nuru scandal is the check forgery scheme of ex-DBI Commission President Rodrigo Santos. Once Santos left the Department of Building Inspection for private practice as an engineering consultant and permit expediter, he would ask his clients to make their checks out to “DBI.” And then, hilariously, as the prosecution showed, he would hand-alter the checks to say “RoDBIgo Santos,” and deposit/cash the checks himself. A crude scheme to be sure, except he got away with it more than 200 times, and to the tune of over $420,000.
Here's an example of how former SF Building Inspection Commission President Rodrigo Santos altered checks made out to "DBI" to "RoDBIgo Santos" so he could allegedly deposit them into his personal bank account. He's facing federal bank fraud charges pic.twitter.com/Ru3ttNzCQ2— Michael Bott (@TweetBottNBC) May 14, 2020
But that was just one of the many splendored things Santos did in eventually ringing up more than $1.5 million in fraudulent checks siphoned into his bank account. And after being indicted not one, not two, but three times on bank and wire fraud charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California announced Friday that Santos has pleaded guilty to a long litany of fraud charges, plus tax evasion charges as the cherry on top.
“Santos pleaded guilty to ten counts of bank fraud, one count of honest services wire fraud, one count of falsifying records in a federal investigation, and five counts of tax evasion,” the Department of Justice said in a press release.
The falsifying records stuff is particularly bad, because Santos provided falsified records to the FBI. “On March 2, 2020, two FBI agents served him with a grand jury subpoena requesting documents related to six client checks connected to the above-described fraud schemes,” the release explains. “In response, Santos altered [engineering firm Santos & Urrutia] invoices to make it falsely appear that his clients had been credited for the checks, though Santos had fraudulently deposited them into his own personal bank account and had never credited his clients for those checks. He admitted that he forwarded the falsified invoices to the FBI knowing they were false and intending to obstruct the FBI’s investigation.”
As KPIX notes, “Each count of bank fraud carries a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. The count of honest services wire fraud carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years.” Adding this up, Santos’s prison sentence could theoretically amount to 330 years. That’s not likely to happen, but for a 64-year-old man, even a lenient sentence could land him behind bars for the rest of his life.
With guilty pleas now in place, Santos is scheduled to have his sentencing on June 23. It will also be interesting to see the plea and legal proceedings of billionaire Chinese developer and alleged prolific Nuru briber Zhang Li, now under house arrest in London and soon to be extradited to the U.S. to stand trial.
So while we refer to this wide-ranging web of misconduct as the “Mohammed Nuru scandal,” it could ironically end up that Nuru’s seven-year prison sentence is one of the shorter jail terms in this whole affair.
Image: Santos & Urrutia