Food safety bribery scandal in San Francisco

December 14, 2011 11:57:28 AM PST
San Francisco's district attorney has announced a major bribery scandal accusing city food safety inspectors of selling passing grades to restaurants.

District Attorney George Gascon is assuring the public there was never any threat to the safety of food in restaurants, even though hundreds of restaurant managers opted to pay money rather than take a food safety exam. Gascon was joined at a news conference this morning by City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Environmental Health Director Richard Lee and others.

Gascon said a restaurant manager told Public Health Department officials in 2008 about a couple of its inspectors who were asking between $100 and $200 to avoid taking the food safety exams. If the restaurant managers paid, they were given the certification without taking the exams.

The exam included such questions as how cold certain food should be kept and how long should other foods be cooked. Twenty percent of managers fail the exam. No managers are being charged.

"They were misled to some extent by the inspectors. So it became clear that it would be a difficult criminal case to prove because of a lack of knowledge in some cases. That was one part. The other part, and the more important part, is that the greater culpability here is to the public employees. We want to make sure that we send a very clear message," said Gascon.

The suspects are facing felonies. They are Ajamu Stewart, who faces 9 years in state prison and Clifton Sanders, who faces 8 years in prison. Both face a $10,000 fine. Stewart has pleaded not guilty. Sanders will be arraigned this afternoon.

Both were put on desk duty two years ago, right after the allegations were uncovered and have since been fired.

City officials would not comment if more city inspectors were involved in the scam.

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