The affidavit underlying the federal bank fraud charges leveled against former Building Inspection Commission president Rodrigo Santos last week methodically lists the 461 checks – totaling nearly $480,000 – he allegedly misdirected into his personal Bank of America account.
The vast majority — 192 between January 2016 and March 2019 — were made out to the Department of Building Inspection (or “DBI;” this will loom large). Former Santos clients interviewed by the FBI claim they were instructed to deliver Santos blank checks made out to city agencies, which were then deposited in Santos’ own bank account.
But there were also two checks for “Asha Safai” (sic), for $1,000.
Ahsha Safaí is the supervisor for San Francisco’s District 11, the Excelsior and Crocker Amazon. He told Mission Local that he has no idea how checks made out to him were allegedly pocketed by Santos.
“I have no knowledge of this at all,” he said. After being emailed the FBI affidavit, he replied, “I still have no idea, sir.”
It’s one more bizarre detail in a bizarre case, in which Santos — a structural engineer appointed to the Building Inspection Commission by Mayor Willie Brown, reappointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, and later named to the City College Board of Trustees by Mayor Ed Lee — is accused of soliciting clients to write checks to DBI, DPW, or, it would seem “Asha Safai,” and then appropriating them.
Jarringly, Santos is accused in at least one instance of altering a check made out to “DBI” to read “RoDBIgo Santos.” In other occasions, he purportedly simply signed the checks over to himself on their reverse.
The federal case comes on the heels of similar charges made in a City Attorney’s lawsuit vs. Santos and business partner Albert Urrutia, not only alleging check fraud but also claiming 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.
The FBI affidavit, penned by Special Agent Allison Lopez, states that Santos’ bank records were obtained by grand jury subpoena. She interviewed multiple former Santos clients, who said they were told their checks were for city permits. In some instances, these clients received written instructions to write blank checks to city agencies from Alex Santos, an engineer at Santos & Urrutia — and Rodrigo Santos’ son.
Lopez notes that she approached Rodrigo Santos on March 2 of this year. “At the conclusion of that interview,” she wrote, “I served a grand jury subpoena directed to Santos & Urrutia for documents, DBI receipts, etc. related to six specific checks connected to the above-described bank fraud scheme.”
On March 27, she continues, Santos’ attorney emailed documents to a pair of US Attorneys. These documents included an invoice, indicating clients whose checks to city departments had ended up in Santos’ personal bank account subsequently received a credit.
“Our investigation, however, has revealed that this invoice is not genuine,” Lopez wrote. She contacted the clients, who provided their own copy of the invoice. It did not include any reference to credits. On top of accusations of bank fraud, Santos is charged with providing bogus, altered materials to the feds.
While the affidavit notes in meticulous detail to whom the checks that allegedly ended up in Santos’ account were made out to, it does not note who wrote the checks. Individual clients are referred to by their initials, and images of the checks are redacted. So the circumstances behind why checks made out to Safaí were deposited in Santos’ account remain unclear.
Calls to Santos’ office were not returned as of press time. Safaí himself says he has no idea. It warrants mentioning that the donation limit for a supervisor is $500, and two checks made out to Safaí for $1,000 were allegedly misdirected into Santos’ account. It is possible that Santos solicited donations for the supervisor — which he allegedly kept.
In addition to Safaí, Santos is also accused of pocketing checks written to Golden Gate Youth Hockey, Golden Gate Youth Rugby, and other entities that are not city departments.
He remains free on a $100,000 bond.
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