Another hit for SF’s scandal-plagued Department of Building Inspection, where a freshly fired inspector is facing misdemeanor charges for granting building permits to his own home, and to buildings owned by his family members.
Just days after the two most recent batches of bribery and corruption charges were lodged against former SF Department of Building Inspection (DBI) inspectors, the SF Standard had a report alleging more possible corruption at the DBI.
But unlike the other recent DBI scandals, which tend to involve inspectors taking cash bribes or sweetheart loans from developers in exchange for permits, this one was a little different. The Standard reported that inspector Van Zeng not only signed off on inspections of his own home in March 2020, but “over the following two years, Zeng personally conducted or signed off on another 19 inspections for three different properties owned by his mother and other investors, as well as on two permits sought by his father.”
And now, Zeng has been charged with conflict-of-interest violations by DA Brooke Jenkins, according to the Chronicle. Zeng had been placed on leave over the alleged violations sometime around this past October, and the Chronicle reports he was fired by the department on December 8.
“San Franciscans should expect our public employees to act with integrity and not engage in self-serving behavior,” DA Brooke Jenkins said in a statement. “My office is committed to rooting out employees who violate ethics laws and hold them accountable.”
Zeng allegedly signed his own DBI permits for major overhauls to his Sunset District home just a month after being hired. And his previous job was for his father’s company Mutual Seiko Construction, for whom he’d allegedly granted permits once he got the inspector job.
Zeng’s attorney tells the Chronicle this is all a misunderstanding. That attorney, Randall Knox, told the paper that the permit granted to his own home was just over stopping work because of COVID-19, and that “All he did was shut down the project, he didn’t approve it.” And in terms of permits for his father’s properties, Knox claims that Zeng did not know his father’s company was the contractor for those permits.
So as such, Zeng has pleaded not guilty to three misdemeanor charges of having a financial conflict of interest in a government decision. He was arraigned and entered his plea Tuesday, and KRON4 reports his next court date is February 23, 2024. If found guilty, Zeng faces up to a year in county jail.
Image: SF DBI