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Wealthy San Francisco developer changes plea to guilty in federal corruption case

A composite image of two men in suites walking out of federal court.
Composite image of Sia Tahbazof, left, and Bahman Ghassemzadeh right, walking out of federal court after they pleaded guilty in their role in a conspiracy to bribe a trio of Department of Building Inspection employees on Friday. | Source: Jonah Lamb/The Standard

A wealthy San Francisco developer and one of his employees, who allegedly took part in a conspiracy to bribe a trio of Department of Building Inspection employees, changed their pleas from not guilty to guilty Friday in federal court as part of a plea agreement in which both men will cooperate with the government and avoid trial.

Sia Tahbazof, the 72-year-old politically connected head of SST Investment and design company SIA Consulting, was charged Nov. 9 with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud in connection with the alleged bribery scheme.

In court Friday, Tahbazof pleaded guilty to that charge, as did his employee and nephew Bahman Ghassemzadeh, who worked for Tahbazof’s firm and allegedly bribed an inspector.

Both men face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Tahbazof and Ghassemzadeh are set to be sentenced April 19.

Tahbazof’s third associate in the case, Reza Khoshnevisan, was also charged with the same allegations and pleaded not guilty last November.

The case against Tahbazof and his colleagues was part of a series of new cases filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office following its prosecution of Bernie Curran, a former city building inspector who took illegal payments from Tahbazof and a structural engineer, Rodrigo Santos. Tahbazof was not named in the Curran case but was referred to only by the moniker "Developer-1.”

After Curran went to prison, the scandal expanded when the U.S. Attorney's Office filed charges against two of his former colleagues, then-plan checkers Cyril Yu and Rudy Pada. The two allegedly participated in the bribery scheme involving Tahbazof, Ghassemzadeh and Khoshnevisan.

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

Tahbazof and Ghassemzadeh also allegedly paid Curran $1,500 for every inspection he did on their projects. Tahbazof also allegedly forgave a $30,000 debt Curran owed.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at jonah@sfstandard.com