Rodrigo Santos, seen here in 2014 with his many awards for running marathons, continues to outpace accountability.

Checks allegedly altered from being paid to ‘DBI’ to ‘RODBIGO SANTOS’

A January 22 amendment was partially unsealed today, revealing that the City Attorney’s 2018 lawsuit against engineering firm Santos & Urrutia has been vastly expanded.

The firm is run by CEO Albert Urrutia and CEO Rodrigo Santos. The latter was appointed to the Building Inspection Commission by Mayor Willie Brown, and served as its president from 2001 to 2005. He was appointed to the City College board in 2012 by Mayor Ed Lee but subsequently lost an election to remain on that body despite spending some $200,000 on his campaign.

In 2018, City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the firm, alleging a scheme in which the highly connected engineers misrepresented major construction and excavation as minor work in order to expediently obtain permits. They were also accused of forging signatures and an engineer’s stamp on these three properties.

The Jan. 22 amendment, partially unsealed after a legal battle with Santos and Urrutia’s attorneys, builds on these accusations. It adds six more properties to the complaint. And, perhaps most jarringly, Santos is accused of check fraud.

Per the suit, Santos requested his clients send him partially completed checks, purportedly for Department of Building Inspection permits or similar expenditures. These checks would be made out to “DBI.” Santos is accused of putting an “RO” in front of that, a “GO” after it, and then adding “SANTOS.” The result is a check made out to “RODBIGO SANTOS,” which he then allegedly deposited in his personal account.

This purportedly occurred several times over the course of three years, from 2016 through 2019. In some 221 instances he allegedly did this or simply deposited checks made out to city departments into his own account.

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

Santos is a go-to engineer for connected San Francisco builders and is, himself, hoping to renovate the decrepit Tower Theatre on Mission Street.

He was the engineer on builder Mel Murphy’s project to “renovate” a home from 854 square feet to 5,139 square feet. Santos claimed he could retain 90 percent of the home’s existing walls and foundations even while sextupling its size. Instead, in December 2013, that home collapsed and cascaded down a steep hillside and into neighboring properties. Murphy, incidentally, was also a former Building Inspection Commission president.

Mission Local’s messages left at Santos & Urrutia’s Mission District office have not yet been returned.

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Managing Editor/Columnist. 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 editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. How did this even work? Were they false charges that he was just making up or was he really stealing from the city? (as opposed to from his clients). If from the city, how were so many unpaid permit fees glossed over? The number of times this (allegedly) happened is shocking.

  2. Not all bad news for Rodbigo – his marathon experience should keep him one step ahead of his future friends at the San Quentin yard.

  3. No story of city DBI malfeasance is complete without a Mel Murphy mention! Thanks for the excellent followup.