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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, May 12, 2020

San Francisco-Based Building Contractor And Former Building Commission Member Charged With Bank Fraud

SAN FRANCISCO – Rodrigo Santos was charged in a criminal complaint with bank fraud in connection with a scheme to divert into his personal bank account funds that his clients intended to be paid to the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (“DBI”) and other city departments, announced United States Attorney David L. Anderson and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett. 

According to the complaint filed May 11, 2020, Santos, 61, of San Francisco, is the principal and co-founder of Santos and Urrutia Structural Engineers, Inc., a structural engineering company based in San Francisco.  Santos has been involved with inspection work in the city both through his firm and through political appointments.  For example, Santos was appointed to the San Francisco Building Inspection Commission in 2000 and as the Commission’s President in 2004 by then-Mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom, respectively. 

As evidence of bank fraud, the complaint alleges that between January 13, 2016, and March 18, 2019, Santos deposited a number of checks into his personal bank account that had been written to third-party departments, companies, and an individual.  The complaint alleges that Santos fraudulently deposited into his personal account 261 checks totaling $478,377.83.  Specifically, the complaint describes several examples of Santos’ alleged diversion of the funds of individual clients.  In one example, Santos instructed joint owners of a residential project to write a blank check to DBI for the uncertain cost of obtaining a purported permit from the agency.  After the owners wrote a check to DBI for an amount “not to exceed $3,000,” the check ultimately was deposited into Santos’s personal account with the hand-written endorsement “DBI” on the reverse of the check.  In another example, the owners of a different residential project wrote several checks they believed would be submitted to DBI or San Francisco’s Department of Public Works for various permits.  Santos caused four of the checks to be deposited into his personal bank account with “DPW” or “DBI” hand-written in the endorsement field on the reverse of the check.  In yet another example, the homeowners wrote a check in the amount of $1,314.50 as pay to the order “DBI,” and Santos added letters changing “DBI” to “RoDBIgo SANTOS.”  The check was deposited into Santos’s personal bank account. 

Finally, the complaint alleges that, when confronted with this evidence, Santos submitted forged invoices to the FBI.

Santos is charged with bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344.  If convicted, Santos faces a statutory maximum of 30 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine.  However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

The charges contained in the criminal complaint are mere allegations. As in any criminal case, the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

Santos was arrested this morning and appeared before U.S Magistrate Judge Alex Tse.  Magistrate Judge Tse ordered Santos released on a $100,000 bond.   Santos’s next court appearance is scheduled for Friday, May 15, 2020, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu for identification of counsel. 

The case is being prosecuted by the Special Prosecutions Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The case is being investigated by the FBI.  San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera also alleged in a lawsuit unsealed in March 2020 that Santos engaged in check fraud.

Topic(s): 
Financial Fraud
Updated May 12, 2020