In December 2022, a former senior official at the San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection (DBI) pleaded guilty to accepting gratuity payments as rewards for approving building permits.
The announcement was made by the United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge, Robert K. Tripp.
The official had been employed at the San Francisco’s DBI since 2005 until he resigned from his supervisory position as senior building inspector while on administrative leave in May 2021. The former inspector’s duties included conducting physical inspections of buildings and construction sites in San Francisco.
The official admitted he accepted illegal payments from two people in connection with his official duties. The first was a long time San Francisco real estate developer who they had developed a friendship with in the 1990s. Over time, they inspected dozens of properties and projects connected to the developer. They admitted that during their DBI career, they received numerous improper financial benefits from the developer. Upon their promotion to senior building inspector in 2009, they accepted cash payments as “rewards” from the developer in connection with final inspections and/or completion and occupancy (CFC) issuances the official conducted at the developer’s properties.
The second person the official admitted receiving illegal gratuities from was an engineer who worked with project owners and contractors seeking building permits in San Francisco. The engineer worked frequently with them and knew they were a volunteer coach and supporter of a San Francisco non-profit adult and youth athletic organization. They admitted in their plea agreement that the engineer arranged for the engineer’s clients to make charitable donations to the athletic organization as rewards, in connection with inspections by the official of the clients’ properties. The donations were typically made by cheques and several times were delivered directly to the official. Between May 2017 and April 2019, the athletic organization received 13 such cheques from the engineer’s clients, totaling $9600.
For a San Francisco property owner intending to shepherd a construction or remodeling project from inception to completion, the first hurdle is to obtain a permit from DBI. Once the permit is obtained and the work is underway, the next hurdle is to pass on-site physical inspections by DBI inspectors who determine whether the work completed complies with the work authorized by the permit. If a project passes all inspections and is deemed completed successfully, DBI inspectors finalize the permits and issue a certificate of final CFC allowing the property to be used.
Each count carries a maximum statutory term of imprisonment for a decade. However, any sentence following conviction imposed by the court will occur only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence.