Former SF building inspection commissioner sued over alleged fraud

The former president of the Building Inspection Commission is facing a lawsuit from the City Attorney’s Office for allegedly committing permit fraud and forging documents to perform construction work.

Rodrigo Santos, a long-time structural engineer with deep political ties in San Francisco, is named in the lawsuit filed Thursday along with his business partner Albert Urrutia. The duo runs a hillside construction firm called Santos & Urrutia Associates Inc.

The complaint alleges that the firm fraudulently engaged in extensive construction work that included excavations under three San Francisco homes without the proper permitting in an effort to outpace competitors and skirt the Department of Building Inspections’ oversight process.

According to the lawsuit, the projects added lower levels to three single-family homes at 147 Marietta Drive, 457 Roosevelt Way and 601A Fell St. “without or beyond the scope of building permits.”

“In doing this extensive work unpermitted work, defendants repeatedly misled and defrauded city agencies including [DBI] and the San Francisco Planning department by submitting fraudulent documents and outright lying to City agencies,” The City alleges in the lawsuit.

Santos is a former City College of San Francisco Trustee, appointed by then-mayor Ed Lee, and a recent member of the City’s Workforce Investment Board. Then-Mayor Willie Brown initially appointed him to the Building Inspection Commission in 2000, where he was responsible for ensuring that building codes are adhered to.

Santos and Urrutia could not immediately be reached for comment.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera called the alleged fraud “outrageous” in a statement.

“It’s sickening that a former head of the City commission responsible for building safety is allegedly involved,” Herrera said. “The fraudulent techniques these defendants used were meant to subvert the integrity of the special inspection system that keeps the public safe.”

Herrera is seeking a court order for the properties to be brought up to code and monetary penalties that could “total millions” across the three properties.

At one of the properties, the defendants are accused of forging a civil engineers “stamp and signature on a falsified inspections report” that was submitted to DBI.

A spokesperson for the department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

At all three properties, the lawsuit accuses the firm of seeking minor construction permits rather than the ones required for excavations that are subject to stricter oversight and regulations.

The suit alleges that the defendants continued to dig beneath homes and failed to notify neighbors of the construction projects despite several building inspection citations.

At 147 Marietta Drive, the firm allegedly used a contractor whose license had been revoked. After DBI cited the firm for performing unpermitted excavation work, the firm allegedly applied for a emergency shoring permit using the name of another construction company that was not involved in the work.

The suit also alleges that at an unaffiliated civil engineer’s “stamp and signature” were forged on at least three special inspection reports.

For the project at 601A Fell St., a set of plans was submitted to DBI that proposed the remodeling of a kitchen and bathroom but did not indicate any structural changes to the building.

The defendants then used “a secret, second set of plans” which added a new floor and living space beneath the building, according to a statement issued by the City Attorney’s office.

The unpermitted construction undermined the foundation of several neighboring properties, according to the lawsuit.

“This is earthquake country,” said Herrera. “We have building codes for a reason. At the top of that list is preventing a collapse that kills someone. That’s especially true when you’re talking about hillside construction in a residential neighborhood. These defendants showed a total disregard for state and local laws designed to protect people.”

The lawsuit also names other contracting firms and clients involved in the alleged fraud.

Laura Waxmann
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Laura Waxmann

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