Former SF Building Inspection Commissioner Arrested by FBI, Charged With Bank Fraud

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Rodrigo Santos, former president of the San Francisco Building Inspection Commission.  (Courtesy Santos & Urrutia)

The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office have arrested another former San Francisco official: Rodrigo Santos, who served as president of the city's Building Inspection Commission.

Santos was arrested Tuesday on charges of bank fraud and booked into Santa Rita Jail just after 6 a.m., according to inmate logs. He later appeared before U.S Magistrate Judge Alex Tse, who ordered him released on $100,000 bond. His next court appearance is Friday.

If convicted, Santos faces a statutory maximum of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, which announced its investigation Tuesday afternoon.

As a building commissioner, Santos was in charge of approving modifications to developments across the city. But it's his transactions as the head of a private engineering firm that are now under scrutiny by the feds. Those allegations stem from a complaint filed in January by San Francisco's city attorney accusing Santos of committing permit fraud and writing and cashing fraudulent checks.

Santos’ alleged method for cashing fraudulent checks was deviously simple, according to investigators — he would seize on the word “DBI” in checks he collected from his construction firm’s clients that were intended for the Department of Building Inspection and rewrite the name on the check as “RODBIGO SANTOS,” intentionally misspelling his own name with the “B” in “DBI.”

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The City Attorney's Office also alleged that Santos and his firm, Santos & Urrutia, ultimately stole more than $420,000 from clients through check fraud between 2016 and 2019. It also accused Santos and his firm of permit fraud concerning nine properties in San Francisco, according to a civil complaint from January, which was partially unsealed on March 12.

"San Francisco and California have building codes for a reason. They keep people safe," City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a March press statement. "These defendants endangered both their workers and unsuspecting San Franciscans."

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Herrera added, "The fact that Mr. Santos is the former head of the commission that oversees building safety makes it all the more disgusting. He tried to use that knowledge to cheat the permitting system, but we caught him. Justice is coming."

Herrera's investigation dates back to September 2018, after his office discovered un-permitted excavations at three properties where Santos & Urrutia Associates were the engineers of record, according to a City Attorney’s Office statement. The investigation led to further allegations of check fraud and additional permit fraud.

Santos’ case has no immediately clear links to that of former San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, who allegedly planned to bribe an airport commissioner and was charged in February with lying to the FBI. But both investigations have parallels: The City Attorney's Office has also investigated the Department of Building Inspection recently in connection to Nuru, and city officials have alleged the department is rife with corruption.

This story has been updated.