Suspended Department of Building Inspection boss Tom Hui, seen here in January.

Sources within the Department of Building Inspection have told Mission Local that director Tom Hui “literally stood over people’s shoulders” to force out the controversial 555 Fulton Street project “sooner than it should’ve been done.” 

And, today, he may be facing the consequences. 

Hui was ensnared in City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s probe of criminally charged ex-Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru: In an 11-page memo to Mayor London Breed, Herrera outlines a lengthy history of alleged misconduct by Hui. Sources within DBI described Hui and longtime city permit expediter Walter Wong as “joined at the hip,” and Herrera’s memo to the mayor in part lays this out. 

Breed today sent a memo to Angus McCarthy, the president of the Building Inspection Commission, urging Hui’s dismissal.  

Already, Mission Local has confirmed that FBI agents visited the Department of Building Inspection on Feb. 5 — after computer files regarding the 555 Fulton project disappeared off the department’s computer system for about a week and then, mysteriously, reappeared. 

This project is the one that Nuru purportedly pulled strings to advance after he and permit expediter Walter Wong were gifted “some stone” and high-end liquor by its developer, Chinese billionaire Zhang Li. 

Herrera on Feb. 27 fired off 14 subpoenas, focusing on Wong, Zhang and their affiliated companies. FBI agents in January raided Wong’s office

Herrera’s  March 10 memo describes Hui as recalcitrant to participate in the investigation, and notes he retained a criminal defense attorney. The memo summarizes the “preliminary findings” of the probe, which include: 

  • Hui is DBI OFFICIAL 1 from the federal complaint against Nuru; 
  • Hui provided “preferential treatment” to Wong and Zhang and accepted gifts and meals from them; 
  • Hui is charged with “abusing his official position” to “influence city employment decisions related to his son and son’s girlfriend.” 
The 555 Fulton project, in the shadow of City Hall.

Hui, who was appointed head of DBI by Mayor Ed Lee in 2013, admitted to City Attorney investigators that he, Nuru, Wong, Zhang and others attended several dinners to discuss the stalled 555 Fulton project — on at least one occasion receiving an email to his personal account from Wong. 

He claimed his portion of the bill would’ve been about $30, an estimate the City Attorney describes as “self-serving.” Pressed by the City Attorney, Hui purportedly admitted “I should not have gone,” and “I cannot defend it.” 

While Hui told the City Attorney he and Wong did not socialize, emails from 2013 reveal he sent Wong draft letters, allowing the permit expediter to, in essence, write city policy. Hui did this using his personal email account. 

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The City Attorney also unearthed emails between Wong and Hui querying about “detailed information” regarding properties owned by Judy Wu, who eventually paid the city a $2 million fine for a scheme in which she and her husband added multiple kitchens and bathrooms to their properties without permitting. 

“Hui provided Wong with extraordinary access,” notes the City Attorney’s memo. This would not come as a surprise to longtime hands within the DBI, who told Mission Local that Wong in past years would walk behind the counter at the department and expedite matters himself. 

Contractor and permit expediter Walter Wong, right, pictured here in 2018 with ex-Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru. Photo by Susana Bates for Drew Alitzer Photography.

The doors to the employee area were jokingly called “The Wong Doors.” DBI officials also claim that, years ago, Wong even had keys to the building and let himself in as he pleased. 

The nexus between Wong, Nuru, and Hui is not hard to triangulate. Here, for example, is some permitting for 2012 work at Nuru’s home, handled by contractor Wong and plan-checked by Hui.

The City Attorney additionally uncovered an email chain in which Hui in 2011 requested Wong assist his son, Jason Hui, in scheduling an interview for a job at Public Works. Jason Hui got that job and later was hired by his own father at DBI. Hui was forced to undo this hire in 2016, and Jason Hui returned to Public Works. 

Jason Hui also wrote to his father to secure aid in landing a job for his girlfriend. Tom Hui emailed Walter Wong about this, who looped in Nuru. 

The girlfriend was hired by the Public Utilities Commission in 2014, subsequently transferred to the Municipal Transportation Agency, and remains there still. 

Breed wasted little time placing Hui on suspension and taking steps for the Building Inspection Commission to formally dismiss him. 

“Mr. Hui abused his position and authority and betrayed the public trust,” reads her memo to that body’s president. “…I ask that you place an item on your March 18, 2020 agenda, to remove Mr. Hui as the Director of Building Inspection.” 

BIC President Angus McCarthy today responded that this item would indeed be scheduled for March 18.

We promise to keep you informed. Keep us reporting by supporting Mission Local today.

 

Joe Eskenazi

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. “Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior...

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8 Comments

  1. This is how business is done within DBI…And Hui is not the only DBI official who uses their position for personal gain. And most people wonder why normal people cannot gets permits easily…The system is left a mess so people like Wong can become king…no such thing as an even playing field at DBI. Even for the employees…to move up you must approve either through plan review or inspection or you never get a promotion

  2. There are reasons why the land use players have designs on the DBI, whether the RBA of O’Donoghue and McCarthy, Shaw’s THC and Elberling’s TODCO: corrupt self-dealing.

  3. “Sources within the Department of Building Inspection have told Mission Local that director Tom Hui “literally stood over people’s shoulders” to force out the controversial 555 Fulton Street project “sooner than it should’ve been done.”

    The irony of this is for anyone familiar with the 555 Fulton project, it has actually take way longer to build that project — something like 3+ years of construction (and it’s still not done!) — that practically any other similar project in the City.

    Which is to ask the question: What precisely did the Chinese developer get, in terms of “special treatment”? — because from what I can tell, the project certainly wasn’t “expedited”!

    This entire affair seems rather pathetic and “penny ante”. Really just a lot of chump change with a helping of nepotism thrown in.

    Fire all the bums — including Hui’s unqualified son and daughter-in-law; slurping at the public trough.

    Again, why does San Francisco “need” over 30,000 public-sector employees?

  4. Can’t stop laughing….who’s next at DBI? The want to be “Nuru” that sits in the corner office at DBI ….he’s squirming like a worm on hot pavement. In fact the group he represents (The RBA) is very pleased it’s Hui and his buddies who is taking the hits.

  5. Joe,

    Wong is a biography I’d love to write.

    As an immigrant, his first job was cleaning a
    place in Chinatown. Invented a way to attach
    razor blades to the bottoms of his shoes so’s
    he could scrape bubblegum when cleaning
    other things at same time.

    He’s dined with the last three heads of
    the Peoples Republic of China.

    I saw Walter a few times daily in 2003 when
    Matt Gonzalez rented his bottom floor for a
    month as his campaign headquarter.

    I had a ‘dumpstered’ Frankenstein computer
    with a couple of missing keys on the keyboard
    and Wong would laugh and watch me type’with
    a pencil in between two fingers and using the
    erasers to tap the prongs where keys should
    be.

    I got back from an errand and there was a
    brand new (abt. $400 Monkeybrains said) …

    So, I go to thank Wong and he says deadpanned ///

    I don’t know what you’re talking about.

    I left it on the desk when we left and Walter’s
    maintenance guy and my good buddy, Paul Barwick
    brought it by my place a couple of days later.

    Guy knows how to give a valued gift and leave
    no fingerprints.

    Go Giants!

    h.

    1. Campers,

      I don’t work for Joe.

      Tho, of course, like all of you I realize he’s the best political
      journalist in town.

      That’s why when I told my erstwhile bookkeeper, Luke Thomas if
      I could afford to do a monthly line item in my budget for Mission Local
      in my $1,200 fixed monthly budget he investigated and said:

      “Do you really want to keep sending OK Cupid twenty bucks a month at your age?”

      Something like that.

      Support your local genius journalist.

      GetbackJoejoe!

      h.

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