The US Attorney’s Office moments ago announced it has filed federal criminal bank fraud charges against Rodrigo Santos, a San Francisco structural engineer, onetime president of the Building Inspection Commission, and former City College trustee.
Santos’ firm, Santos & Urrutia, was in 2018 sued by Dennis Herrera. The City Attorney alleged 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 multiple properties.
Additionally, Santos was charged with check fraud earlier this year by the City Attorney, for allegedly depositing some 221 checks made out to city departments — worth around $420,000 — into his personal account. On several instances, he is accused of altering checks made out to “DBI” to read “RoDBIgo Santos.”
Today’s federal criminal charges stem from Santos’ alleged deposits into a federally guaranteed bank account.
The federal complaint claims Santos deposited 261 checks written to third parties into his own bank account — a matter of nearly $480,000.
The feds further allege that, when confronted with these allegations, Santos submitted forged invoices to the FBI.
He was arrested this morning and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alex Tse, who ordered Santos released on a $100,000 bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for Friday, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu for identification of counsel.
Santos is charged with bank fraud and, if convicted, he faces a statutory maximum of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
He 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.
Santos is a go-to engineer for connected San Francisco builders and had, himself, hoped 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.
“We’re pleased that our investigation and civil enforcement action has led to criminal charges against Mr. Santos,” said Herrera. “Our office works tirelessly to make sure that those who abuse the law are held to account — no matter their position. Our case against Mr. Santos exposed both how he undermined public safety and how he defrauded his own clients.”
“I applaud the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for taking criminal action against him,” Herrera continued, “and I especially want to thank the investigators and attorneys in our office for their meticulous investigation into Mr. Santos’ wrongdoing.”