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Prominent San Francisco developer paid bribes to building inspection employees, Feds say

Sia Tahbazof
Sia Tahbazof, left, and his wife, Sami Tahbazof | Source: Drew Altizer Photography

A prominent San Francisco developer was charged Thursday for allegedly paying bribes to three former employees of the Department of Building Inspection to expedite building permits and conduct building inspections.

Sia Tahbazof, the founder of the design and engineering firm Sia Consulting and the development company SST Investments, allegedly paid cash bribes to a former senior inspector, Bernie Curran, and ex-plan checkers Rudy Pada and Cyril Yu.

The bribes included an $85,000 interest-free loan to Pada and free meals and drinks for Yu, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in charging documents. Tahbazof also allegedly forgave $30,000 of a $260,000 loan he provided Curran and paid him $30,000 for conducting inspections, at a rate of $1,500 per inspection.

READ MORE: Who Is the ‘Immensely Wealthy’ Developer Tied to San Francisco’s Corruption Scandal?

Prosecutors also charged the co-owner of Sia Consulting, Reza Khoshnevisan, 54, and Tahbazof's nephew, engineer Bahman Ghassemzadeh, 38, with fraud in the alleged bribery scheme. The U.S. Attorney's Office alleged that they both conspired to bribe Pada and Yu, while Ghassemzadeh is also accused of bribing Curran.

Attempts to reach Tahbazof, Khoshnevisan and Ghassemzadeh for comment were not immediately successful.

Tahbazof, 72, is among the most prominent business people charged in a wide-ranging corruption scandal that began in early 2020 with the arrest of former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru. The scandal has touched the highest levels of leadership within the building inspection department, spurring the resignation of its director, Tom Hui, and criminal charges against Curran, Pada and Yu.

Curran is currently serving a federal prison sentence in Lompoc after pleading guilty to charges related to taking payments from people whose properties he inspected in both state and federal court, while both Pada and Yu have pleaded not guilty. Pada has a court date to change his plea in early December.

Patrick Hannan, a spokesperson for the building inspection department, said the agency "commends the U.S. Attorney’s efforts to bring to justice those seeking to corrupt the government processes meant to keep the public safe."

Tahbazof is the patriarch of a powerful real estate family that owns, develops and manages properties across San Francisco. He is also politically connected, having hosted a fundraiser for Mayor London Breed in 2018 and described Supervisor Ahsha Safaí—who is challenging Breed for mayor next year—as a family friend.

A man dressed in a blue suit and tie stands next to a woman wearing a silver and pink dress as they look at the camera for a posed portrait.
Sia Tahbazof, right, and his wife, Samaneh Tahbazof, pose for a picture at an event. | Source: Arthur Kobin for Drew Altizer Photography

In 2015, he and his wife, Sami Tahbazof, co-founded a charity, the Tahbazof Family Foundation, that donated more than $400,000 to various causes in 2022, tax filings show. His children, attorneys Yosef Tahbazof and Sufi Tahbazof Hariri, run the Tahbazof Law Firm and the property management company Atlas Property Group. 

While this is the first time that federal prosecutors have named Tahbazof in the scandal, The Standard has previously connected him to the cases against Curran, Pada and Yu.

‘Tortured Chain’ of Payments

In the case against Curran, federal prosecutors said an unnamed developer whose projects Curran regularly inspected gave him a $260,000 loan that they concealed by routing the cash through various relatives. The developer, who prosecutors referred to only as “Developer-1,” never required Curran to repay $30,000 of his debt.

Shortly after his debt was forgiven, prosecutors said Curran issued a key approval for a property that the developer owned on the 700 block of Harrison Street, despite another inspector having identified building code violations that were not fixed.

In August, The Standard detailed the various indications that this developer was Tahbazof, signaling that he could face charges in the future.

Defense attorneys described this developer as being “immensely wealthy,” with a “minimum net worth of over $100 million” as of 2017.

Among the evidence pointing to Tahbazof was that SST Investments, the company Tahbazof founded, owned a building at 750 Harrison St. that received a key approval from Curran on the same day described by prosecutors.

It was the only approval of its kind that Curran issued that day, according to the Department of Building Inspection.

Another indication was that Curran’s daughter wrote a letter to the court saying she had worked for the Tahbazof family for nearly seven years and that her father had been friends with Tahbazof for more than two decades.

Defense attorneys for Curran said that Developer-1 had hired Curran’s daughter to work in his office and that Curran had befriended the developer in the early 1990s.

Finally, court records obtained by The Standard from a separate criminal case against Curran, filed by the District Attorney’s Office, showed he received $260,000 in early 2017 through a series of bank transactions involving relatives that matched the “tortured chain” of payments described by defense attorneys in the federal case against him.

The state court records revealed that the transactions began with a $300,000 payment from SST Investments to Tahbazof’s brother-in-law, Freydoon Ghassemzadeh. An account belonging to Ghassemzadeh and his wife then passed $260,000 to Curran’s mother, before Curran ultimately received the money in a check from his mother.

As part of this same scheme to hide the source of the money, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Curran also signed a “false” loan agreement with a relative of Developer-1 establishing the terms of a “fictional loan.” Prosecutors described how Curran later disclosed that loan in a city ethics filing from May 21, 2021. City ethics filings show the loan Curran disclosed that day was from Ghassemzadeh.

After The Standard reported that Tahbazof’s son helped prepare the terms of the “fictional” loan from Ghassemzadeh to Curran, Yosef Tahbazof resigned from his longtime city position on the Assessment Appeals Board.

In the cases against Pada and Yu, the U.S. Attorney’s Office described three unnamed executives at a construction planning and design firm who allegedly bribed each of them with cash, meals and drinks in exchange for approving their building plans.

Prosecutors said Pada received these bribes between August 2003 and September 2017, while they said Yu took them between January 2018 and February 2021.

Referring to the executives only as co-conspirator 1, 2 and 3 in court filings, prosecutors said Co-conspirator #1 ran a San Francisco-based construction and building planning and design firm as well as a construction company that developed residential and commercial buildings around the Bay Area.

In the Pada case, prosecutors said Pada received an $85,000 loan from a relative of Co-conspirator #1 in December 2013. Co-conspirator #1 allegedly arranged the loan for Pada through a relative, referred to as “Individual #1” in a scheme to conceal it.

While Pada paid his debt in full, prosecutors said he was not charged interest despite certifying in a loan agreement that he would pay 6% interest.

Property filings reviewed by The Standard show that Pada received an $85,000 loan from Ghassemzadeh—Tahbazof’s brother-in-law—around the same time.

Pada signed a deed of trust, which was filed in December 2013, giving Ghassemzadeh the right to sell a property Pada owned in the Sunset to recover his debt.