SAN FRANCISCO—On Tuesday, May 12, the U.S. Attorney’s Office publicly charged Rodrigo Santos, 61, former president of the San Francisco Building Inspection Commission, with the embezzlement of over $478,000 meant for San Francisco agencies.
U.S. Attorney David Anderson and FBI Special Agent in Charge John Bennet announced the charges after a criminal complaint was filed on May 11.
After his arrest, at around 6 a.m., Santos was booked at Santa Rita Jail. He appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alex Tse who ordered Santos’s release on a $100,000 bond.
According to the allegations, between January 2016 and March 2019, Santos forged and personally deposited 261 checks from clients intended for the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI), as well as other city departments, companies, and an individual.
In 1988, Santos and fellow Stanford University alum Albert Urrutia co-founded Santos & Urrutia Structural Engineers, Inc., a private engineering firm. Santos & Urritia, Inc. completed over 11,000 projects, according to the company.
The defendant contributed thousands of dollars in political donations. Officials who have received money from Santos include Governor Gavin Newsom, San Francisco Board of Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, Senator Scott Wiener, and others.
In 2000, former Mayor Willie Brown appointed Santos to the Building Inspection Commission. Four years later, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom promoted Santos to President of the Building Commission. He also served on the board for the City College of San Francisco after being appointed by former San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee in 2012.
The May 11 criminal complaint recounts alleged examples of Santos’s appropriation of city funds. In one description, Santos reportedly changed the letters of a check written out to “DBI” to read “RoDBIgo SANTOS.”
The complaint further claims that after being confronted with evidence, Santos gave the FBI forged invoices to dispute the charges.
David Eriksen, Santos’s lawyer, did not respond to a comment request from the San Francisco News, but told the San Francisco Chronicle that Santos denied all allegations against him.
The charges against Santos include other allegations that have been accumulating for close to two years. In September 2018, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued Santos & Urrutia, Inc. for permit fraud.
On March 12, 2020, Herrera filed another civil suit against Santos’s company, accusing it of depositing 221 fraudulent checks amounting to $420,000, along with committing permit fraud for at least nine properties in San Francisco.
In Tuesday’s statement, Herrera applauded the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for using his legal team’s “detailed case against Mr. Santos” to take “criminal action against him.”
If convicted as charged, Santos could face a statutory maximum of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
On Friday, May 15, Santos is expected to appear before the U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu to identify his legal counsel.