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Developer to change plea in San Francisco bribery case. Is a deal coming with prosecutors?

A man in a suit walks into court
Court records indicate Sia Tahbazof may have struck a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. | Source: Jungho Kim for The Standard

Indicating he may have struck a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, a wealthy San Francisco developer who allegedly conspired to bribe three employees of the Department of Building Inspection is set to change his plea from not guilty.

Sia Tahbazof, the politically connected founder of the development firm SST Investment and design company SIA Consulting, and two of his business associates were each charged Nov. 9 with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud in connection with the same alleged bribery scheme.

Tahbazof and his associates, Reza Khoshnevisan and Bahman Ghassemzadeh, each pleaded not guilty later that month.

Now, court records show a date has been set in early January for Tahbazof and his nephew, Ghassemzadeh, to change their pleas. While it’s unclear whether they will plead guilty, such hearings are often a sign that a defendant has reached a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to avoid going to trial.

A man and woman arrive at a courthouse.
Bahman Ghassemzadeh, left, and his attorney Gail Shifman, right, arrive at federal court for a hearing on Nov. 17. | Source: Jungho Kim for The Standard

Attorneys for Tahbazof and Ghassemzadeh, who worked as an architect for SIA Consulting, did not return inquiries seeking comment. No date has been set for Khoshnevisan, the co-owner of SIA Consulting, to change his plea.

The charges against Tahbazof and his associates were among a new wave of cases filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office shortly after it resolved its prosecution of Bernie Curran, a former senior city building inspector who accepted illegal payments from Tahbazof and a structural engineer, Rodrigo Santos. Tahbazof was referred to only by the moniker "Developer-1" in the Curran case.

Once Curran was sent to prison, the scandal expanded with the U.S. Attorney's Office filing charges against two of his former colleagues, then-plan checkers Cyril Yu and Rudy Pada, for allegedly participating in the bribery scheme involving Tahbazof, Ghassemzadeh and Khoshnevisan.

Prosecutors said Tahbazof and Ghassemzadeh conspired to bribe Pada and Yu with cash, meals and drinks in exchange for them issuing building permits. 

He and Ghasemzadeh also allegedly paid Curran $1,500 for each inspection he conducted on their projects, and Tahbazof allegedly forgave a $30,000 debt for Curran, who is now imprisoned until September 2024. 

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

Ghassemzadeh allegedly took Pada to lunch and for drinks regularly and would give him between $1,200 and $1,700 in return for Pada expediting and approving building permits. Tahbazof allegedly reimbursed him for the bribes.

Prosecutors said Khoshnevisan helped bribe Pada and was aware of the conspiracy to bribe Yu.

Curran, Pada and Yu no longer work for the Department of Building Inspection.

Pada pleaded guilty Friday to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and is expected to be sentenced March 29.

Yu pleaded not guilty last month but was also given a date Thursday to change his plea on Feb. 2.

Tahbazof and Ghassemzadeh are set to change their pleas Jan. 5.

Michael Barba can be reached at mbarba@sfstandard.com