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Press Release

San Francisco Senior Building Inspector Pleads Guilty To Accepting Illegal Gratuities

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California

SAN FRANCISCO - Bernard Curran, a former San Francisco Senior Building Inspector, pleaded guilty today to two counts of accepting gratuity payments as rewards for approving building permits, announced United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Robert K. Tripp. 

Curran, 62, of San Francisco, was employed at the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI) from 2005 until he resigned from his supervisory position as Senior Building Inspector while on administrative leave in May 2021. Curran’s official duties included conducting physical inspections of buildings and construction sites in San Francisco. For a San Francisco property owner intending to shepherd a construction or remodeling project from inception to completion, the first hurdle is to obtain a permit from DBI. Once the permit is obtained and the work is underway, the next hurdle is to pass on-site physical inspections by DBI inspectors who determine whether the work completed complies with the work authorized by the permit. If a project passes all inspections and is deemed completed successfully, DBI inspectors “final” the permits and issue a certificate of final completion and occupancy (CFC), allowing the property to be used. 

In his plea agreement today, Curran admitted that he accepted illegal payments from two people in connection with his official duties. The first was a long time San Francisco real estate developer who Curran developed a friendship with in the 1990s. Over time, Curran inspected dozens of properties and projects connected to the developer. Curran admitted that during his DBI career, he received numerous financial benefits from the developer that he knew were improper. Upon Curran being promoted to Senior Building Inspector in 2009, he accepted cash payments as “rewards” from the developer in connection with final inspections and/or CFC issuances that Curran conducted at the developer’s properties. In one instance in March 2017, Curran accepted $260,000 from the developer to assist Curran in paying down his existing residential mortgage so he could obtain favorable refinancing rates. Though Curran intended to repay the money, he knew that accepting it was improper and created a forbidden conflict of interest. Moreover, though Curran paid most of the $260,000 back, he admitted the developer never required him to repay $30,000 of the outstanding balance. Curran understood that the $30,000 debt forgiveness was an improper reward for conducting past and future inspections at the developer’s building projects. 

The second person Curran admitted receiving illegal gratuities from was an engineer who worked with project owners and contractors seeking building permits in San Francisco. The engineer worked frequently with Curran and knew he was a volunteer coach and supporter of a San Francisco non-profit adult and youth athletic organization. Curran admitted in his plea agreement that the engineer arranged for the engineer’s clients to make charitable donations to the athletic organization as rewards for and in connection with inspections by Curran of the clients’ properties. The donations were typically made by check and several times were delivered directly to Curran, who in turn delivered the checks to the athletic organization. According to the plea agreement, in several instances the engineer advised Curran of a client’s donation while asking for a final permit or inspection on the client’s property. From May 2017 through April 2019 the athletic organization received 13 such checks from the engineer’s clients, totaling $9,600. Curran admitted that he took official action for each of the clients who wrote the 13 checks, knowing this conduct was not permitted.

Curran entered his guilty pleas before United States District Judge Susan Illston, who scheduled a sentencing hearing for Curran on March 31, 2023. Curran remains out of custody pending his sentencing hearing.

Curran pleaded guilty to two counts of accepting illegal gratuities in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(B). Each count carries a maximum statutory term of imprisonment of 10 years. However, any sentence following conviction imposed by the court will occur 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 Special Prosecutions Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California is prosecuting the case. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

This case is part of a larger federal investigation targeting public corruption in the City and County of San Francisco. To date, twelve individuals have been charged, including high-ranking San Francisco public officials Harlan Kelly and Mohammed Nuru. Nuru was sentenced to seven years in federal prison in August 2022. Multiple city contractors and facilitators have also been charged and several have been sentenced to prison. 

Updated December 9, 2022