Developer Sia Tahbazof and two associates were charged in connection with a growing corruption scandal involving bribes to San Francisco inspectors for expediting building permits.
Federal prosecutors accused Tahbazof, founder of San Francisco-based Sia Consulting and SST Investments, of paying cash bribes to three former employees of the city’s Department of Building Inspection, the San Francisco Standard reported.
The wide-ranging corruption scandal that began in early 2020 with the arrest of former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru has affected the highest echelon of the department.
The probe has led to indictments, guilty pleas and convictions of more than a dozen city officials, contractors and local business executives, including Harlan Kelly, former general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
The latest indictment alleges Tahbazof greased the palms of former Senior Inspector Bernie Curran and plan-checkers Rudy Pada and Cyril Yu.
The bribes included an $85,000 interest-free loan to Pada and free meals and drinks for Yu, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Tahbazof also allegedly forgave $30,000 of a $260,000 loan he provided Curran and paid him $30,000 for conducting inspections, at a rate of $1,500 per inspection.
Prosecutors also charged the co-owner of Sia Consulting, Reza Khoshnevisan, 54, and Tahbazof’s nephew, engineer Bahman Ghassemzadeh, 38, with fraud in the alleged bribery scheme.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleged both conspired to bribe Pada and Yu, while Ghassemzadeh allegedly bribed Curran. Neither Tahbazof, Khoshnevisan and Ghassemzadeh could be reached for comment.
Tahbazof, 72, is the most prominent local business leader charged in the alleged bribery scheme, which compelled the resignation of Building Inspection Director Tom Hui and spurred criminal charges against Curran, Pada and Yu.
Tahbazof is the head of a powerful real estate family that owns, develops and manages properties across San Francisco, according to the Standard.
He’s also politically connected, having hosted a fundraiser for Mayor London Breed in 2018 and described Supervisor Ahsha Safaí as a family friend.
In 2015, he and his wife, Sami Tahbazof, founded the Tahbazof Family Foundation, which donated more than $400,000 to various causes last year, according to tax filings.
His children, attorneys Yosef Tahbazof and Sufi Tahbazof Hariri, run the Tahbazof Law Firm and Atlas Property Group, a property management firm. In August, Yosef Tahbazof stepped down from the city’s Assessment Appeals Board after allegations surfaced that he helped prepare a loan at the center of a corruption case against Curran.
In July, Curran was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges related to taking payments from people whose properties he inspected.
In August, Nuru was sentenced to seven years in prison. Structural engineer Rodrigo Santos received a 30-month sentence. A former Recology executive was sentenced to six months of home confinement.
Prosecutors also charged Chinese billionaire Zhang Li with bribing Nuru. Li agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement; his company, Z&L Properties, has agreed to pay a $1 million fine.
Pada, 68, of Millbrae, was charged this month with accepting bribes that included money, meals and more from 2003 until he retired in 2017, prosecutors said.
Yu, 41, of San Francisco, was charged with taking bribes that included cash, meals, drinks and other benefits from January 2018 until February 2021 in return for expediting and approving permits for building and construction plans, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Pada and Yu have pleaded not guilty. Early next month, Pada has a court date to change his plea.
— Dana Bartholomew