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Breed calls for removal of long-time building department director

The San Francisco mayor is requesting that the Building Inspection Commission fire current Department of Building Inspection Director Tom Hui due to corruption allegations revealed at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Mayor London Breed shared with supervisors a memo from The City Attorney’s Office alleging Hui abused his position by giving preferential treatment to billionaire China developer Zhang Li and permit expediter Walter Wong.

Hui has been the director of DBI since 2013, but has been with the department since 1989.

Breed said in a statement:

“The City Attorney’s report shows a number of legal and ethical violations committed by the Director of DBI since 2011 that compromise the public’s trust in City government and are completely unacceptable by any civil servant. I have already asked the Building Inspection Commission to remove the Director from his position, which they have the authority to do under our City charter. I have also placed the Director on leave effective immediately.”

Li and Wong have since been identified in the federal complaint against former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru in the scheme to expedite permits for a development project at 555 Fulton St. In return, Nuru allegedly received free trips and loading, including a trip to China provided by Zhang.

Hui was voluntarily interviewed by the City Attorney’s Office on Feb. 18 and was asked about “DBI OFFICIAL 1” mentioned in the federal complaint. Hui said it sounded like a reference to himself.

The federal complaint mentioned a dinner arranged between DBI OFFICIAL 1 and “DEVELOPER 1,” who has been identified as Zhang.

Hui admitted to having three to four dinners with Wong, Zhang and Nuru at the Chinatown restaurant R&G Lounge where the Fulton Street project was discused.

The City Attorney’s Office said Hui did not report the meals on his annual Statement of Economic Interests nor did he report the dinners to his own department after realizing the encounters were focused on the project.

There is no evidence yet that the dinners influenced Hui’s project decisions, but Wong’s intent was clear. Hui admitted he should have not attended the dinners, the City Attorney’s Office said.

Ching Wong/SFBay The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection Director Tom Hui, center, speaks at a press conference where Mayor London Breed issued an executive order to help property owners create more ADUs in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, August 30, 2018.

The director is also accused of violating anti-favoritism laws and abusing his city position in hiring decisions.

It is alleged Hui asked Wong to help his son reschedule a job interview with the Department of Public Works, where he was eventually hired as a junior engineer in August 2011.

In a later career move, Hui’s son joined the Department of Building Inspection as an associate engineer. Hui signed off on his son’s hiring paperwork.

The city attorney alleges Hui also asked Wong to help his son’s girlfriend get a job in 2012. The girlfriend, now his wife, received am email notification from DPW that she was not selected for a position she applied for. The girlfriend then forwarded the email to Hui’s son, which was eventually sent to Wong and then on to Nuru.

Nuru responded by saying that he was working on the issue and pushed the DPW human resources staff to review her paperwork.

The girlfriend was hired in 2014 at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission as an exempt employee. She transferred later to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, where she remains currently employed.

In reference to the Nuru scandal specifically, supervisors Tuesday approved a motion to acquire a special investigator who will be tasked with making recommendations aimed at rooting out corruption in city departments.

Supervisor Matt Haney, who sponsored the motion, said in a statement:

“While the City Attorney, federal investigators, and Controller are doing their jobs, the Board of Supervisors must also do our jobs as the legislative branch. The serious findings alleging ethical and legal misconduct by the Director of Building Inspection revealed today clearly underscores the urgency of this special, independent investigator.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Mayor London Breed’s last name as “Breeds” in the headline. It has since been corrected.

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