Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Former San Francisco building inspector gets one year in prison on corruption charges

A federal prosecutor said Bernie Curran used his position for his benefit and disregarded safety when issuing building permits.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Bernie Curran, a former senior building inspector for San Francisco, was sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison Friday for accepting gratuity payments in exchange for approving building permits.

Curran pleaded guilty in December and had requested to serve his sentence at home.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, a Clinton appointee, called the case “complicated,” noting that Curran had many supporters who attested to his character.

“It’s very important for public officials to conduct themselves in accordance with the rules,” Illston said. “I get letters saying this kind of conduct has degraded the office, has made people feel less secure and has left the office in question about whether prior inspections by Curran were properly done, necessitating expensive and time-consuming audit work.”

Illston said that “deterrence” was the most important part of the sentencing, and home confinement would be a “slap on the wrist.”

“It’s really important that public servants do what they’re supposed to,” Illston said.

Before the reading of his sentence, Curran apologized and said he was “ashamed of his actions.”

“I don’t believe I ever did anything that would have jeopardized anyone’s house. I’m hoping for the mercy of the court but willing to accept my punishment as a man,” Curran said.

Casey Boome, an attorney for the U.S. government, said that Curran used his position for his benefit and disregarded safety when issuing building permits. He brought up 1400 Church Street, a property in San Francisco that Curran certified was livable even though there was no working fire safety system on the ground floor. Residents lived in the building from 2019 to 2021 before the fire department discovered the lack fire safety system.

In his plea agreement, Curran admitted that he accepted illegal payments from two people in connection with his duties. Curran accepted a $260,000 loan from a person identified only as Developer One. Curran gave Developer One’s properties Certificates of Final Completion and Occupancy (CFC) in exchange for the money, which Curran needed to pay down his mortgage.

“The defendant and Developer One took extraordinary lengths to conceal this loan,” Boome said. “Curran concealed payments, and he lied and filed false paperwork.”

Curran also admitted to accepting payments from Rodrigo Santos, former president of the San Francisco Building Inspection Commission. Santos worked with clients who were seeking permits and building inspections. Curran and Santos arranged for Santos’ clients to funnel money into a San Francisco non-profit youth and adult athletic organization that Curran supported and coached.

According to the plea agreement, Santos advised Curran of charitable donations while asking for final permits or inspections on his property. 

Curran is the latest person to face charges in a wide-ranging corruption scheme that has ensnared several public officials. Former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru is serving seven years in prison for his role in the scandal, and a jury found former Public Utilities Commission General Manager Harlan Kelly guilty of corruption Friday.

Curran’s attorney, Philip Kearney Jr., said Curran was different from others named because he committed his crimes to benefit the charity he supported, and nothing went into his own pockets.

“Curran was and is motivated by helping kids,” Kearney Jr. said. “He's a very small fish caught in a very large net.”

In the wake of Curran’s misdeeds, the city had to audit more than 5,400 properties in San Francisco to determine if they were safe.

Curran has until October 12 to surrender to authorities. He will be on supervised release for two years after his time in prison.

Categories / Criminal, Financial, Government, Trials

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.