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2 ex-building inspection staffers plead not guilty to taking bribes; 1 may change plea

Two small photos of the mens face, Cyril Yu on the left and Rudy Pada on the right which is overlayed on top of the Philip Burton Federal Courthouse in San Francisco at night. The 2 men Yu and Pada faced felony fraud charges inside the Federal building for accepting the bribes in exchange for expediting and approving permits for building and construction plans
A composite image shows Cyril Yu, left; Rudy Pada, right; and a background photo of the Phillip Burton Federal Courthouse in San Francisco where they both appeared in court. | Source: Getty Images; courtesy

Two former San Francisco city building inspection employees accused of accepting bribes in exchange for approving building permits pleaded not guilty to fraud charges this week, but that may soon change for one of them.

Rudy Pada, 68, and Cyril Yu, 41, showed up in San Francisco federal court for the first time on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, after becoming the latest former city employees accused of corruption in a widening scandal.

Pada and Yu are ex-engineers for the Department of Building Inspection who were responsible for checking building plans to ensure they were up to code. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud against each of them last Thursday, alleging that they accepted cash, free meals, drinks and other bribes from three unnamed executives at a construction planning and design firm.

While both Pada and Yu pleaded not guilty at their hearings, a judge set a court date in early December for Pada to change his plea. It’s unclear whether he will plead guilty or cooperate with the government against others implicated in the alleged conspiracy, such as the unnamed executives. If convicted, they each face up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

Pada, who wore a dark checkered suit over a rich blue shirt, sat in the back of the courtroom waiting for his case to be called as a number of alleged drug dealers had their day in court before Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim.

When Pada was finally up, he barely said anything besides acknowledging that he understood the charge against him.

“Yes, your honor,” Pada said.

He and his attorney, Jim Reilly, declined to comment outside the courtroom.

Yu did much the same when he sat in the same courtroom the following day, wearing a black puffer vest over a white shirt.

An attorney for Yu pushed back on the allegations against his client but declined to go into specifics.

“Once the facts come out, the case will look very different from what it might seem,” Yu’s attorney, Nghi Lam, told The Standard.

Pada and Yu are the latest in a long line of former city employees, contractors and business people to face federal corruption charges since the arrest of former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru nearly four years ago.

They are also not the first former DBI employees charged in the controversy.

Bernie Curran, a former senior inspector, just began serving a federal prison sentence in Lompoc after pleading guilty in both federal and state court over the past year to charges related to taking payments from people whose buildings he inspected. He is not due to be released until September 2024.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has yet to release many details about the bribes Pada and Yu allegedly accepted in exchange for approving building permits.

Prosecutors said Pada took them between August 2003 and September 2017, while Yu allegedly accepted them between January 2018 and February 2021.

Pada is also accused of taking an $85,000 loan from a relative of one of the executives who allegedly bribed him. Prosecutors said the executive, referred to only as “Co-Conspirator #1” in court filings, arranged for the relative to provide the loan in December 2013 as part of a scheme to conceal it.

While prosecutors have not named the co-conspirator or the relative, property filings reviewed by The Standard show that Pada received an $85,000 loan from a developer named Freydoon Ghassemzadeh around the same time.

Ghassemzadeh is the brother-in-law of Sia Tahbazof, the founder of a development company, SST Investments, and a design and engineering firm, SIA Consulting.

Prosecutors said Co-conspirator #1 ran a construction and building planning and design firm in San Francisco as well as a construction company that developed residential and commercial buildings around the Bay Area.

The Standard has previously reported that Tahbazof may be the unnamed developer described by federal prosecutors in the case against Curran who allegedly used his relative to conceal a separate loan to Curran.

Like Pada, Curran received a loan from Ghassemzadeh.

Tahbazof has declined to comment in the past and did not return a voicemail after the charges against Yu and Pada were announced.

Ghassemzadeh hung up when reached by phone on Friday.

Pada is due back in court for his change of plea hearing Dec. 8, while Yu’s next court date for a status hearing is on Dec. 12.

Both men are out of custody and the government is not seeking to detain them.