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Feds say developer who bribed city officials should skip prison time

Sia Tahbazof, who admitted to giving bribes in a plea deal, also received a letter of support from longtime San Francisco politician John Burton

Two men walk into the federal building.
Bahman Ghassemzadeh, left, and Sia Tahbazof, center, arrive at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco on Nov. 17, 2023. | Source: Jungho Kim for The Standard

Federal authorities recommended that a politically connected San Francisco developer who admitted to bribing officials receive a light sentence with no prison time, court documents show. 

The U.S. Attorney's Office wrote in a sentencing memo that Siavash “Sia” Tahbazof should receive three years probation, six months of home confinement and a fine of $50,000. According to court filings, Tahbazof, who is worth $7 million, faced up to 15 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

“Mr. Tahbazof has been humbled by this conviction—the only time in his life he has been in trouble with the law. The conviction and surrounding press have caused Mr. Tahbazof shame—deservedly so—and have tarnished the reputation he built over many decades,” wrote his attorney, Edward Swanson, in a sentencing memo. 

"The conviction and surrounding press have caused Mr. Tahbazof shame."

Sia Tahbazof's attorney

Tahbazof pleaded guilty in January along with his employee and nephew Bahman Ghassemzadeh as part of a plea agreement. Federal prosecutors recommended that his nephew also receive a light sentence of three years probation and a $25,000 fine.

Both men are set to be sentenced on Friday. 

Tahbazof is the head of design firm SIA Consulting and of SST Investments. He was charged on Nov. 9 with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud in connection with the alleged bribery scheme.

Tahbazof and his colleagues allegedly conspired to bribe a trio of Department of Building Inspection employees. Reza Khoshnevisan, a third person involved in the scheme, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest service fraud on Feb. 9 in a plea agreement but has yet to be sentenced. 

Tahbazof, the 73-year-old businessman, also received numerous letters of support from his family and friends, calling for a light sentence.  

A man raises a woman's hand.
Nancy Pelosi and former California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton raise their arms together in celebration during the California Democratic Party Convention in Sacramento on May 20, 2017. | Source: Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Among those letters was one written by former Congressman John Burton, who has known Tahbazof for two decades and calls him a “dear friend.”

Burton wrote that Tahbazof had supported the foster youth-aiding nonprofit, the John Burton Advocates for Youth, for years both financially and personally. 

“As a person involved in politics for close to 50 years, I am accustomed to people making promises, only some of which are kept,” Burton wrote. “Sia Tahbazof is the exception. Sia has translated his deep empathy for those less fortunate into action and lasting change.” 

The action against Tahbazof was part of a series of 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 an engineer, Rodrigo Santos

After Curran was sent to prison, the scandal expanded when the U.S. Attorney's Office filed charges against two of his former colleagues, former plan checkers Cyril Yu and Rudy Pada. Pada and Yu have both pleaded guilty in separate cases and admitted to participating in the bribery scheme involving Tahbazof, Ghassemzadeh and Khoshnevisan.

Two men in suits exit a courthouse front door.
Bernie Curran, left, and Rodrigo Santos leave federal court in downtown San Francisco. | Source: The Standard

Tahbazof and Ghassemzadeh admitted to conspiring to bribe Pada and Yu with cash, meals and drinks in exchange for building permits, documents show. 

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

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at