In a jarringly on-the-nose development, Rodrigo Santos — the confessed federal criminal who flouted San Francisco codes and laws for decades as an engineer and permit expediter — is now accused of running his unlawful business out of an unpermitted building.
“The violation pertains to the construction and use of a new detached structure in the required rear yard … without the benefit of [a] building permit and approval from the Planning Department,” reads a Notice of Enforcement sent by the Planning Department earlier this month to the Santos family home on Chattanooga Street.
“According to the violation complaint, a commercial business dba RS Engineering is being operated from the above property.”
The complaint originated in October 2022. On the last day of that month, Santos’ wife told the Planning Department “that the building at the back of the house was being used as a home office.” Yes, without permitting or any other city permissions.
It’s yet another twist in the strange and terrible saga of Rodrigo Santos, who pleaded guilty in January to 17 federal counts, including falsifying records in an FBI investigation, five counts of tax evasion involving more than $1.6 million in unreported income, and 10 counts of bank fraud. These bank fraud charges involve the pilfering of some $775,000 of clients’ money in dribs and drabs as he transferred checks they wrote to others into his own Bank of America account. In one circumstance, he altered a $1,314.50 check to “DBI” to read “RoDBIgo Santos.”
On Friday, former senior building inspector Bernie Curran was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison, in part because of his participation in a bribery scheme with Santos. Curran signed off on substandard work at the properties of Santos’ clients in exchange for contributions to Curran’s preferred youth sports nonprofits. Santos’ own federal sentencing is slated for next month.
Santos is also facing scrutiny on the local level, where he was initially sued by the City Attorney in 2018, well prior to federal charges being leveled. These local charges are potentially even more problematic than the federal charges, as they allege dangerous and substandard building practices. In addition to check fraud, the City Attorney accused Santos of misrepresenting major constructions and excavations as minor work — and using out-and-out forged engineering seals and signatures to pull this off.
Santos, facing a pending federal sentencing — with a potential of five to 30 years in the pen for every count but, likely, far less time — may have more pressing matters on his mind than that of an unwarranted backyard office. The Planning Department notices are addressed to a revocable trust in his wife’s name, and correspondences have been handled by Virginia Santos.
Virginia Santos, in June, responded to the Planning Department and said she believed the structure to have been a “shed” erected in the 1930s and “restored” in the 1990s. The City Assessor’s office confirmed to Mission Local, however, that Virginia and Rodrigo Santos purchased this home in January, 1989. Photographs of the structure in question provided by the Planning Department indicate it is certainly no longer a “shed.”
Last month, the Planning Department informed Virginia Santos “that once a noncomplying structure has been demolished, it cannot be rebuilt without first obtaining proper permits and approval from the Planning Department in conformity with the current code. … no such permit was obtained.”
Virginia Santos was, last month, advised to submit a permit application, as well as a request for a variance — an exception from the planning code for this non-complying structure. On July 6, a Notice of Enforcement was sent to the property, outlining a series of in-person meetings, document submittals and fees to be paid.
Despite his mounting troubles, Santos — for years — remained very much in demand. The former president of the Building Inspection Commission continued to be a near-daily presence at DBI headquarters at 49 South Van Ness Ave., even after being sued in both local and federal court and even after the Department of Building Inspection created an “Expanded Compliance Control List” and put him on it. This program, which scrutinizes serial bad actors and sends notices to their clientele, was created to ensnare Rodrigo Santos and, presently, features a single member: Rodrigo Santos.
Notices on windows at DBI headquarters kindly inform patrons to make out their checks to “CCSF-DBI.” This, too, is due to Santos.
And yet, after all that, Santos continues to get work; he is presently attached to an “alteration and rear addition” at 1153-55 Guerrero St. and a variance application at 532-534 Shotwell St.
The Planning Department affirms that Santos is in compliance with the 15-day deadline for a response to its July 6 Notice of Enforcement. The matter will continue on, for the time being.
For no stated reason, an agenda item regarding the revocation of Rodrigo Santos’ engineering license with the Office of Administrative Hearings was abruptly taken off the calendar on July 11.
A manager at that body offered no explanation for the nonvote, but said to check back at the end of August. Coincidentally or not, Santos’ date in federal court for sentencing is Aug. 25.
Additional reporting by Lana Tleimat.