birds-eye view, bribery
A crane looms over the eastward expanse. Photo by Kerim Harmanci.

The U.S. Department of Justice today announced bribery charges against former Department of Building Inspection employees Cyril Yu and Rodolfo “Rudy” Pada. Both worked in plan-checking for DBI, and are accused of taking bribes in exchange for “expediting and approving building and construction plan permits.”

Pada, who worked at DBI from 1984 to 2017, is additionally accused of concealing “an interest-free $85,000 loan facilitated by a construction planning and design firm executive.” In 2021, Mission Local reported on Pada receiving an undisclosed loan from Freydoon Ghassemzadeh of SIA Consulting.

A 2021 controller’s report noted that “a former DBI employee who has not been named publicly … owed Mr. Ghassemzadeh a significant amount of money when this employee was still employed by the department, and was reviewing plans submitted to obtain permits for work at properties Mr. Ghassemzadeh owned.”

Mission Local confirmed that employee was Pada, and unearthed the publicly available records regarding the loan for a Sunset District home owned by Pada (today’s filings state Pada, 68, resides in Millbrae).

Yu was also deeply tied into controversial DBI projects that have landed others guilty pleas and prison sentences, for bribery and more.

In March 2020, Mission Local reported that since-ousted DBI boss Tom Hui “literally stood over people’s shoulders” to push out the troubled 555 Fulton project. FBI officials later marched into DBI headquarters to seize records relating to this project. The Chinese billionaire whose company was building the star-crossed 555 Fulton development, Zhang Li, has since pleaded guilty to bribing ex-Public Works head Mohammed Nuru — whose arrest in 2020 was the first domino in the feds’ ongoing San Francisco corruption probe.

In the 2021 report, the controller noted that the approval process for the shoring plan at 555 Fulton was “unusually quick,” clocking in at “less than a day.” As Mission Local noted at the time: Glancing at the files for that project, former Building Department plans engineer Cyril Yu started and finished that review on April 30, 2014. 

An excavator scoops up a large pile of debris and places it in a dumpster in this file photo from 2013.

Rodolfo “Rudy” Pada

While Pada’s time at DBI stretches back to the Reagan administration, today’s charging document accuses him of a bribery scheme running from 2003 until he left city employment in 2017.

It involves “Co-conspirator #1,” who “ran a San Francisco-based construction and building planning and design firm that drafted construction plans, advised on construction projects, and helped clients obtain approvals and permits for construction projects.”

Co-conspirator #1 “also owned and managed a construction company, that oversaw construction of residential and commercial buildings in the San Francisco bay area.” Two other co-conspirators work with No. 1

The setup was not complicated: Pada was allegedly plied with meals, drinks, bribes and kickbacks, and the co-conspirators’ plans and permits were expedited through the notoriously slow and problematic gauntlet of the DBI approval process.

Today’s federal document notes that Pada received the $85,000 loan in December 2013 from Co-conspirator #1. The document obtained by Mission Local indicates Pada received a loan from Freydoon Ghassemzadeh on Dec. 6, 2013.

Ghassemzadeh, however, does not appear to be Co-conspirator #1. Complicating matters, today’s DOJ charging document notes that “PADA and Co-conspirator #1 concealed the loan by having the funds provided by Individual #1, a relative of Co-conspirator #1. As part of this loan process, PADA signed and had notarized an Installment Note falsely stating that PADA would pay a 6% annual interest rate on the loan.”

Pada’s accused bribery misdeeds closely match those for which former senior building inspector Bernie Curran has already been found guilty and sentenced to prison. Curran was found to have provided false documents stating he received a 6 percent loan from Freydoon Ghassemzadeh. In fact, authorities later found, he received that money from a relative of Ghassemzadeh’s and veiled its origin through a “tortured chain” of transactions.

The true source of the “loan” to both Curran and Pada was never overtly named by the feds. But, connecting breadcrumbs they conspicuously left throughout their filings, a number of signs point toward Ghassemzadeh’s relative, Sia Tahbazof, who runs a property management company and founded design and engineering firm SIA Consulting.

If so, that would mean the “Developer-1” in Curran’s case is also “Co-Conspirator #1” in Pada’s.

line outside DBI
In this March 16, 2020 photo, a line of permit-seekers stretched out the door of the Department of Building Inspection and down Mission Street at the exact moment the mayor and health director were announcing the initial shelter-in-place order.

Cyril Yu

Yu worked at DBI from 2014 until 2021 and, per the feds, enjoyed a similar relationship with Co-Conspirators Nos. 1 through 3. Today’s charging document accuses him of bribery and taking kickbacks, meals and drinks from 2017 or 2018 until his departure from the department.

“As part of the scheme, Co-conspirator #3 would pay YU between $1,200 and $1,700 in cash for helping approve building plans for Co-conspirator #3’s company,” reads today’s document. “Co-conspirator #3 would pay YU in cash, typically during drives to lunch together.”

Yu left DBI two years ago, after having taken extended leaves of absence. As of Nov. 3, he is still listed on the University of California, San Francisco’s, website as a plan reviewer.

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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. Funny how this was going on for years and the Chronicle never reported a word about it. Either:
    1) Their city hall reporting is terrible, or
    2) They knew and didn’t report it.

    Not sure which is worse.

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    1. They do not report at the SF Chronicle and SF Examiner, at least in the past. On October 22, 2000, my whistleblowing (1997 to the FBI) case at UCSF in Facilities had been linked with the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation’s Report on School Roofing Projects (Came out in Sept. 2000) in the first national link of a huge, decades long scam targeting schools in the US and Canada. That report came out on the front page Sunday paper below the fold, in the Dayton, Ohio Daily News, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper on their national stories, it is a huge daily in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. Their editors called the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner editors repeatedly, and were ignored. They were shocked at the fact that they refused the story, as it was well known for those decades in the roofing world. They put the story on the New York Times newswire for 17 months. Yes, there was censorship and it was due to who was involved. That is a whale of a real story, and would shock the living daylights of most people here…. but not in other states. Eventually, the SF Weekly did their own story after another manufacturer could not break into the supposed competitive bid specs in Mechanical Equipment, went to the same two FBI Agents I went to who found the kickbacks at UCSF and UC Davis – but got shuffled off yet again. Hint: Political folks would be in great trouble. And it was being done across the board, according to the politicians that threatened me in person, one with my life, here in San Francisco. It’s never ended, they are so nervous about what I will do. At this point, I don’t have to do a thing, it’s all coming out anyway. It’s way beyond me and what I did and stumbled onto. But rest assured, from what I have observed and been through, it was clear they censored the story. Just saying, been there, done that.

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  2. What is absent from these discussions is the Planning Department’s involvement in this mess. It is inconceivable that permits could be approved without any Planning collaboration. Insiders know of a common secret that certain land use attorneys have inordinate sway over Planning Department staff and in payment, support their promotions This tit for tat behavior has been going on since the previous Director. Managers routinely direct staff to promote the interests of these attorneys. Perhaps someone should sunshine emails and personal text messages of the heads of the development permitting section and the Chief of Staff of Planning to expose this collusion.

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  3. And we have BoS Ahsha Safaí connection and publicly supporting SIA consulting.
    One big happy family

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    1. Safai has never taken a public stance on this issue. “This targeted attack appears to be spurred by Safai’s identity.” And by censoring other comments exposes the authors unfortunate colonial settler/occupier bias.

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  4. According to the organization chart provided by UCSF Real Estate, Mr. Yu is listed as a Plan Reviewer who reports directly to the Campus Building Official, Afsaneh Ahmadi.

    Most of the plan review, however, appears to be done by consultants (refer to page 2 in the link):

    Two firms are listed as non-structural plan reviewers: Bureau Veritas, and 4 Leaf, Inc.
    One firm is identified as “Smoke Control Review”: Reax Engineering
    One person is identified as “Geotechnical Engineer review”: John A. Egan, P.E., G.E.
    Five firms are identified as “Structural Review Consultants”: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Maffei Structural Engineering, Rutherford + Chekene, Estructure, and Buehler Engineering, Inc.

    The Department of Building Inspection typically relies on consultants for reviewing the structural and geotechnical aspects of certain types of projects, among these high-rise buildings. Refer to the department’s Administrative Bulletin, AB-082, “Guidelines and Procedures for Structural Design Review”.

    Perhaps the Department should consider employing consultants on a wider basis.
    There’s no guarantee that monied interests and their agents won’t try to influence the conduct of consultants hired by the Department. Apparently , Mr. Pada is listed as a plans examiner at CSG Consultants. Nonetheless, employing consultants would help the Department establish and maintain some distance, physical and mental, between monied interests and those who review plans on behalf of the people who reside or do business in the City and County of San Francisco.

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    1. This looks rather naive to me. In DBI’s culture, the end state would be hiring consultants who do the footwork that DBI inspectors should be doing themselves.
      What needs to happen is City leadership to look around the state and rebuild the DBI after a functioning and effective comparable department elsewhere. Including basic stuff that’s broken, like hiring engineers where engineers are called for, and using a system that properly tracks a job.

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  5. Director has corrected most all wrong doings. Give him a break. The new Director has never done anything wrong. We need him and the mayor to correct DBI with their new insights.

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