SF developer Sia Tahbazof changes plea to guilty in corruption case

Charged with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud in connection with an alleged city bribery scheme

SF Developer Sia Tahbazof Pleads Not Guilty to Fraud Charge
Sia Consulting's Sia Tahbazof (Getty, First Republic)

San Francisco real estate developer Sia Tahbazof, the influential figure behind SST Investment and SIA Consulting, changed his plea to guilty alongside his employee and nephew, Bahman Ghassemzadeh. 

Both were charged with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud in connection with an alleged bribery scheme involving Department of Building Inspection employees, the San Francisco Standard reported.

The charges include accusations that Ghassemzadeh bribed an inspector within Tahbazof’s firm.

Facing a potential maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, Tahbazof and Ghassemzadeh will be sentenced on April 19. 

The plea follows a series of cases initiated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, stemming from the prosecution of Bernie Curran, a former city building inspector involved in illegal payments from Tahbazof and structural engineer Rodrigo Santos. 

Tahbazof, referred to as “Developer-1,” was not implicated in the Curran case but became a central figure in subsequent charges against his associates.

Prosecutors allege the developer and his associates greased the palms of Curran and plan-checkers Rudy Pada and Cyril Yu to jumpstart building permits and pass building inspections. 

The bribes included an $85,000 interest-free loan to Pada and free meals and drinks for Yu, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors accuse Tahbazof of bribing Department of Building Inspection employees since 2003.

Tahbazof also allegedly forgave $30,000 of a $260,000 loan he provided Curran and paid him $30,000 for conducting inspections, at a rate of $1,500 per inspection, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors also charged the 54-year-old Khoshnevisan, co-owner of Sia Consulting, and  engineer Ghassemzadeh with fraud in the alleged bribery scheme. The U.S. Attorney’s Office allege both conspired to bribe Pada and Yu, while Ghassemzadeh allegedly bribed Curran. 

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Tahbazof, 72, is the most prominent local business leader charged in the alleged bribery scheme, which compelled the resignation of Building Inspection Director Tom Hui and spurred criminal charges against Curran, Pada and Yu.

He’s also the head of a powerful real estate family that owns, develops and manages properties across San Francisco. His children, attorneys Yosef Tahbazof and Sufi Tahbazof Hariri, run the Tahbazof Law Firm and Atlas Property Group, a property management firm. 

In August, Yosef Tahbazof stepped down from the city’s Assessment Appeals Board after allegations surfaced that he helped prepare a loan at the center of a corruption case against Curran.

In July, Curran was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges related to taking payments from people whose properties he inspected.

In August, Nuru was sentenced to seven years in prison. Structural engineer Rodrigo Santos received a 30-month sentence. A former Recology executive was sentenced to six months of home confinement.

Prosecutors also charged Chinese billionaire Zhang Li with bribing Nuru. Li agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement; his company, Z&L Properties, has agreed to pay a $1 million fine.

Pada, 68, of Millbrae, was charged this month with accepting bribes that included money, meals and more from 2003 until he retired in 2017, prosecutors said.

Yu, 41, of San Francisco, was charged with taking bribes that included cash, meals, drinks and other benefits from January 2018 until February 2021 in return for expediting and approving permits for building and construction plans, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Pada and Yu have pleaded not guilty.

— Ted Glanzer, Dana Bartholomew