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Statement of SF Ethics Commission Chair Yvonne Lee on Guilty Plea of Former City Official Over Corruption Charges


On January 13, former president of the San Francisco Building Inspection Commission and permit expediter, Rodrigo Santos, pleaded guilty to 17 federal counts related to multiple schemes that defrauded his clients of $775,000. Santos has agreed to pay more than $1 million in restitution to his victims and may face up to 30 years in prison.

As the Chair of the San Francisco Ethics Commission, I commend the federal agencies working on this and other cases of public corruption. The charges against Rodrigo Santos are part of a larger federal investigation into corruption in the City, which to date has led to twelve individuals being charged, including former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, who was sentenced to seven years in prison last year.

These investigations have underscored the Ethics Commission’s role in strengthening our ethics rules, expanding our proactive training efforts, and our efforts to investigate all infractions, big and small. 

In 2020, the Ethics Commission named reviewing conflict-of-interest rules its top policy priority. Since that time, the Commission has published four policy reports on behested payments, gifts, and other essential reforms to the City’s ethics provisions.

This work bore fruit. Last year the City instituted new rules prohibiting officers and designated employees from soliciting behested payments from interested parties.

Since December of 2021, the Commission has sought to place a ballot measure before voters, which would:

  1. Close gaps in City gift laws,
  2. Establish an annual ethics training requirement for key City staff,
  3. Revise structures and practices to apply ethics rules more consistently across all departments,
  4. Close loopholes that hinder the full ability of the Ethics Commission to enforce administrative penalties against violators, and
  5. Ensure future changes to the City’s ethics rules be made by the voters or in collaboration with the Ethics Commission.

The Commission was unable to place these reforms before City voters in 2022, due to a legally required meet-and-confer process with the Municipal Executives Association (MEA). This meet-and-confer process is controlled by the City’s Department of Human Resources (DHR) and the Commission is continuing to work with DHR to conclude this process and give San Franciscans an opportunity to vote on these important ethics reforms as soon as possible.

In addition, the Ethics Commission is ramping up for increased proactive outreach and trainings for City agencies, with the launch of the Commission’s Ethics@Work program. Our goal is to reduce the number of improper activities by raising awareness of ethics rules and helping City officials understand why these rules are important. This increased awareness and understanding is intended to help City officials make better choices and promote a strong ethical culture throughout the City.  

The corruption scandals of the last several years have eroded the public’s trust in our City institutions and undermined the important work of thousands of ethical, hardworking City officials, who show up every day to make San Francisco a better place to live. The work to rebuild the public trust is far from over, but the Ethics Commission remains committed to doing everything within its power to promote the highest standards of integrity throughout San Francisco government.

Reporting Complaints

If you suspect improper behavior, please consider submitting a complaint to the Ethics Commission. Complaints can be made anonymously.

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