Former SF Department of Public Health Employees Charged with Felony Counts for Food Safety Bribery Scheme

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 14, 2011

CONTACT: Stephanie Ong Stillman, (415) 553-1167 or (415) 740-5134
Omid Talai, (415) 553-9272

San Francisco – District Attorney George Gascón announced today that two former Environmental Health Inspectors for San Francisco’s Department of Public Health Food Safety Program were arraigned on multiple felony charges for their alleged roles in a food safety bribery scheme involving local restaurants.

Former Department of Public Health employees Ajamu Stewart and Clifton Sanders were responsible for inspecting retail food businesses to ensure compliance with the California Retail Food Code, and one of their duties was to enforce the requirement that each business employ at least one person who possessed a current and valid Food Safety Manager certificate. The defendants are charged with soliciting cash payments in numerous instances from retail food businesses in exchange for providing Food Safety Manager certificates, even though the businesses had not done what was required by law to obtain the certificates. The defendants are also alleged to have falsified government documents to reflect that a Food Safety Manager examination had been taken and passed by someone in each of the listed retail food businesses, though no such examination had been taken.

“The defendants used their inspection authority to solicit bribes from local restaurants, showing complete disregard for state laws and public trust,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “This case is a good example of city departments working together to ensure public corruption will not be tolerated in San Francisco. Thank you to the City Attorney’s Office for bringing this important case to our attention.”

City Attorney Dennis Herrera turned over this case to the District Attorney’s Office after an initial investigation by the City Attorney and the Department of Public Health uncovered significant irregularities in the administration of the exams conducted by the defendants. Herrera’s investigation found that numerous Food Safety Certifications had been issued to individuals who never actually took the exam. According to the City Attorney, the defendants’ alleged actions resulted in the invalidation of Food Safety Certifications for hundreds of restaurants. The District Attorney’s Office subsequently conducted a criminal investigation which culminated in the filing of the current charges.

"Public employment is a public trust, and its betrayal demands our most aggressive efforts to pursue and punish," said City Attorney Dennis Herrera. "That's especially important when it comes to protecting food safety here in San Francisco, and it's why I applaud District Attorney Gascón and his top-notch legal team for their work to bring those responsible for this exam scam to justice. I'm grateful to the investigators in my office who initially began the investigation into irregularities in food safety examinations, and I also appreciate the immediate steps the San Francisco Department of Public Health took to make sure food safety was protected once we found evidence of wrongdoing."

Stewart was arrested on December 5, 2011 and pled not guilty at his arraignment on December 6, 2011. He is scheduled for a pretrial conference on December 14, 2011 at 9:00 am. Sanders was arrested on December 8, 2011 and pled not guilty at his arraignment on December 14, 2011. Sanders and Stewart are scheduled to appear in court on Department 10 on January 4, 2012.

District Attorney Investigators Mike Kloss and Diane Kenny are the investigators on the case. Assistant Chief Investigator George Cothran is the investigator for the City Attorney’s Office. Assistant District Attorney Kelly Burke is the prosecutor.

Charges:

Ajamu Stewart:
Penal Code § 68(a) • Bribery • Felony • July 20, 2007-December 27, 2007
Penal Code § 68(a) • Bribery • Felony • September 1, 2007-December 31, 2007
Government Code § 6200 • Falsification of Public Record • Felony • November 28, 2007
Government Code § 6200 • Falsification of Public Record • Felony • February 14, 2008
Penal Code § 118(a) • Perjury • Felony • March 4, 2008
Penal Code § 68(a) • Bribery • Felony • April 22, 2008
Penal Code § 68(a) • Bribery • Felony • October 1, 2008-December 31, 2008
Government Code § 6200 • Falsification of Public Record • Felony • October 30, 2008

Clifton Sanders:
Penal Code § 68(a) • Bribery • Felony • August 14, 2007-August 27, 2007
Government Code § 6200 • Falsification of Public Record • Felony • February 11, 2008
Penal Code § 68(a) • Bribery • Felony • August 15, 2007-August 27, 2007
Government Code § 6200 • Falsification of Public Record • Felony • January 17, 2008
Government Code § 6200 • Falsification of Public Record • Felony • August 27, 2008
Penal Code § 68(a) • Bribery • Felony • December 12, 2007-May 14, 2008
Government Code § 6200 • Falsification of Public Record • Felony • May 14, 2008
Penal Code § 68(a) • Bribery • Felony • May 16, 2008
Government Code § 6200 • Falsification of Public Record • Felony • June 9, 2008

Terms of Exposure:
Ajamu Stewart
Up to nine years in state prison and a restitution fine of $10,000. Forfeiture of his office, employment, or appointment, and disqualification from ever holding any office, employment, or appointment in California.

Clifton Sanders:
Up to eight years in state prison and a restitution fine of $10,000. Forfeiture of his office, employment, or appointment, and disqualification from ever holding any office, employment, or appointment in California.

###

 George Gascon, District Attorney George Gascon, San Francisco District Attorney