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San Francisco corruption: disgraced ex-building inspector pleads guilty in state case

Bernie Curran stands outside a courtroom at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco on Aug. 30, 2023. | Source: Jonah Owen Lamb/The Standard

With his federal corruption case over, a former San Francisco building inspector has reached a plea deal to resolve the charges brought against him by local prosecutors for allegedly taking payments from property owners whose projects he inspected.

Bernie Curran, 62, pleaded guilty Tuesday morning at the Hall of Justice to one count of felony perjury and one count of misdemeanor financial conflict of interest. The charges are in connection with a $180,000 loan that prosecutors said Curran accepted from developer Freydoon Ghassemzadeh in 2017, court records show.

Prosecutors said Curran committed perjury by failing to report the loan in his financial disclosure paperwork in 2018, and that he had a conflict of interest when he completed a final inspection for a property owned by Ghassemzadeh in Hayes Valley.

His attorney, Christopher Ulrich, said in court that Curran acknowledged the charge against him for felony perjury was “provable.”

Curran and his attorneys declined to comment on his guilty plea.

The District Attorney’s Office initially charged him in February 2022 with 11 perjury and conflict-of-interest charges related to payments that prosecutors said he took from various property owners whose properties he inspected.

The state case against Curran was an offshoot of a broader public corruption scandal that resulted in primarily federal charges against more than a dozen city officials, contractors and businesspeople, including ex-Department of Public Works head Mohammed Nuru.

The plea deal comes after Curran was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison in July after pleading guilty to two counts of accepting illegal reward payments to settle the case against him brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Bernie Curran, wearing a gray suit and red tie, leaves court.
Bernie Curran leaves the federal courthouse after his sentencing on Friday July 14, 2023. | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

The federal charges against him stemmed in part from Curran inspecting the properties of people who donated to his favored youth sports charity at the request of engineer Rodrigo Santos, who himself is set to serve two-and-a-half years in prison.

Curran was also charged with accepting a $260,000 loan from a prominent San Francisco developer whom federal prosecutors have not publicly identified and refer to only by the moniker “Developer-1." Prosecutors said Curran received the money through a series of transactions meant to hide the source of the funds.

The Standard previously used court and other public records to report that Developer-1 may be Sia Tahbazof, a civil engineer and the brother-in-law of Ghassemzadeh. Prosecutors have hinted that Developer-1 may also face charges, pledging that he will “be held accountable for his role in this scheme.”

Neither federal or state prosecutors have announced charges against Tahbazof or Ghassemzadeh. Both men previously declined to comment when reached by The Standard. Ghassemzadeh did not return a phone call Tuesday.

Curran is due to return to court for sentencing Sept. 29 in his state case and is expected to serve time concurrently with his federal prison sentence.

He was ordered to surrender to federal authorities by Oct. 12.