SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – A former San Francisco Building Commission president has been charged in federal court with bank fraud for allegedly diverting to his personal bank account $478,000 that clients of his engineering company intended to be paid to the city, prosecutors announced Tuesday.

Rodrigo Santos, 61, of San Francisco, the co-founder of Santos and Urrutia Structural Engineers Inc., was charged with one count of bank fraud in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Monday.

He was arrested Tuesday morning, made an initial appearance before a federal magistrate and was released on $100,000 bail, according to U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Abraham Simmons.

Santos is accused of fraudulently depositing into his personal account 261 checks totaling $478,000 that his clients thought were intended for payments to the Department of Building Inspection and other city departments.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the federal prosecution grew out of a civil fraud lawsuit he filed against Santos in 2018 and then updated with new theft charges in January.

The civil lawsuit alleged Santos stole $420,000 in 221 checks from clients who were told the checks were needed to pay city fees. The federal criminal complaint increases the number of checks to 261 and the amount to $478,000.

A former San Francisco Building Commission president has been charged in federal court with bank fraud for allegedly diverting to his personal bank account $478,000 that clients of his engineering company intended to be paid to the city.

The civil lawsuit also includes charges of permit fraud.

Herrera stated, “Our case against Mr. Santos exposed both how he undermined public safety and how he defrauded his own clients. Our team developed a detailed case against Mr. Santos, and I’m glad the U.S. Attorney’s Office used that information to help build their criminal case.”

The civil lawsuit alleges that in some cases, checks made out to agencies such as the Department of Building Inspection and Department of Public Works were endorsed on the back with the initials of the agency and then deposited in Santos’s account.

In a few cases, the acronym DBI on the front of the check had additional letters added to say RODBIGO SANTOS, the lawsuit claims.

Simmons said the criminal complaint cites examples of both types of allegedly fraudulent endorsements.

The bank fraud charge fraud carries a potential maximum sentence of 30 years in prison if Santos is convicted.

Simmons said Santos’s next court appearance is scheduled before a federal magistrate on Friday for identification of his defense lawyer.

Santos was appointed to the city’s Building Inspection Commission by Mayor Willie Brown in 2000 and was named president of the commission by Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2004.

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