Skip to main content
Politics & Policy

SF mayoral hopeful invites supporters to roller rink fundraiser hosted by convicted felons, then backtracks

A man in a suit sits attentively, hands folded, in a chamber with ornate wood paneling.
District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai was the first person to declare a challenge to Mayor London Breed in the 2024 election. | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

San Francisco mayoral hopeful Ahsha Safaí is distancing himself from two convicted felons with ties to the construction industry who were advertised as the hosts for a Thursday fundraiser benefiting his campaign.

Contractor John Pollard and his romantic partner, Annabel McClellan, were listed as the headliners on an invitation seen by The Standard. Pollard pleaded guilty to tax fraud in 2013, while McClellan pleaded guilty to obstructing an investigation into an insider trading scheme in 2011.

But a consultant for the supervisor’s campaign, which is sponsoring the event and listed the couple as hosts on its fundraising page, said their names were “erroneously” included on the invite because of a misunderstanding.

The consultant, Derek Jansen, said Safaí and his team coordinated with the couple via email to throw the fundraiser at the Church of 8 Wheels, a roller skating rink inside an abandoned church that Pollard owns on Fillmore Street.

“There was a mistaken understanding that they were also hosting, but they were simply coordinating the space,” Jansen said.

The campaign removed their names from the invite after learning about the error, Jansen confirmed Tuesday. 

These screenshots show an online invitation for the fundraiser before and after it was edited to remove Pollard and McClellan's names.

Jansen blamed the campaign’s fundraising staffer for the error. He had no further explanation for how the venue owner and his partner were listed as hosts.

Jansen said Safaí "does not know Pollard well" but did not have more details about their relationship. Safaí deferred to Jansen for comment.

A fundraiser hosted by two people convicted of white-collar crimes could create perception problems for Safaí, who represents the Excelsior on the Board of Supervisors and faces an uphill race against Mayor London Breed in 2024. Daniel Lurie, an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, is also laying the groundwork for a campaign.

Jim Ross, a local political consultant who does not have a client in the race, said campaigns are under intense pressure to fundraise. But Ross said having an event hosted by two people with felony records was “probably a mistake.”

“The big issue that [Safaí] has is people don’t know who he is,” Ross said. “Now there is going to be a group of people who are going to be introduced to Ahsha Safaí through a story about him associating with convicted felons.”

Ross said any ties to the couple dilute the chances that Safaí can successfully attack Breed for her connections to people entangled in a long-running FBI investigation into corruption at City Hall.

The mayor dated the central figure in the controversy, former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru, and celebrated her birthday with real estate mogul Victor Makras shortly before he was charged with bank fraud in 2021.

“If you say London Breed has corruption issues, she is going to say, ‘Well, what about yours?’” Ross said. “So it all gets muddied.”

A consultant for Breed’s campaign declined to comment.

Safaí would not be the first person whom Pollard supported for public office. Records show he has made various political contributions over the years, including to earlier campaigns by Breed and Safaí. He has also donated to Supervisor Aaron Peskin and other officials in the progressive faction.

Pollard declined to speak with The Standard, but said in a text message that he and McClellan were not the hosts of the event.

“Safaí is renting our Hall this Thursday but we are forbidden from donating as we have active projects with the City,” Pollard said.

Pollard said he had “no idea” how he and McClellan ended up on the invite.

"I own the church and rent to all who ask," he said.

Attempts to reach McClellan were unsuccessful.

John Pollard is the founder of SF Garage Company. | Courtesy photo

Pollard has started various companies in San Francisco including SF Garage Company, a construction firm that specializes in garage installation and retrofitting. He had close ties to the Department of Building Inspection, which was tarnished by the corruption scandal through multiple cases.

In 2020, Pollard was at the center of a lawsuit filed against the city by former Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards. The lawsuit alleged that DBI retaliated against Richards because he publicly criticized the agency for turning a “blind eye” to problems with excavation work performed by Pollard, who is close personal friends with former DBI Deputy Director Ed Sweeney.

The city settled the lawsuit and agreed to pay Richards $1.8 million.

Pollard’s 2013 conviction stems from some $173,000 in unpaid taxes owed by his garage installation and retrofitting firm, SF Garage Company.

He also was accused of check kiting, or cashing fake employee paychecks. Prosecutors said that practice amounted to “check fraud” on two occasions.

However, Pollard was never charged for the alleged check fraud. In court filings, he described the unpaid taxes as a mistake.

“Mr. Pollard is not a scofflaw, but rather an honorable person who simply never was schooled in compliance,” his defense attorneys wrote in 2014. He did not serve time but was sentenced to probation. 

Pollard had not completed his probation in the case when San Francisco police arrested him in 2016 on suspicion of a felony hit-and-run.

While he was not charged in the crash, federal prosecutors in the tax fraud case sought to revoke his probation over the incident.

Prosecutors said Pollard crashed his car into a vehicle driven by one of his employees. While Pollard told police the crash was an accident, prosecutors said his statement was contradicted by video of the incident.

“This incident shows another side to Pollard, of violence and deception,” prosecutors said. “That Pollard tried to minimize the incident as a mistake with minimal damage to the vehicles evidences deception and lack of respect for the law. Without the videos, Pollard may have succeeded.”

Ultimately, Pollard was ordered to take anger management classes and remained on probation until 2018. He was not sentenced to prison.

In May 2022, Pollard faced a new round of troubles. State authorities filed a disciplinary complaint against him and his firm, SF Garage Company, seeking to suspend the company’s contractor license.

Investigators found that the company was paid about $422,000 for a structural upgrade project that it abandoned, leaving much of the work incomplete at the property on Lombard Street in the city.

The disciplinary action is pending.

McClellan, meanwhile, was accused of participating in an insider trading scheme with her sister and brother-in-law, who lived in London.

McClellan, who was previously married to a partner at a major accounting firm, admitted in court records to passing confidential information about upcoming acquisitions to her relatives overseas after overhearing her then-husband discussing those details in business calls.

Prosecutors said her brother-in-law then traded stock based on the tips.

McClellan also admitted to lying to Securities and Exchange Commission  investigators about the scheme. Prosecutors said she falsely denied passing on the information.

“McClellan betrayed her husband for years in a duplicitous and destructive manner,” prosecutors said. “She stole highly confidential, material, non-public information; she tipped her sister and brother-in-law in order to illegally benefit her family; and she lied repeatedly about it under oath to the SEC.”

The SEC inquiry found the scheme netted some $3 million in illegal profits.

McClellan denied receiving profits from the trades and said she apologized to both the SEC investigators and her then-husband. She agreed to pay a $1 million fine to the SEC and was sentenced to 11 months in prison.

Editor's note: The timeline of Pollard's connections to the Department of Building Inspection has been clarified.

Michael Barba can be reached at mbarba@sfstandard.com