San Francisco employee files claim over sewer scandal

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A 20-year veteran of the San Francisco City Attorney's Office filed a claim against the city for whistleblower retaliation. Joanna Hoepper believes she uncovered corruption that cost taxpayers millions of dollars, but when she tried to investigate, she says she was fired.

Hoepper says she found $10 million of claims that the city should not have paid out. Now she wants an independent investigation to see if there were kickbacks going to the city attorney's office.

After spending most of her career uncovering corruption on behalf of San Francisco tax payers, Hoeper never imagined she would become a whistleblower.

She said, "I was looking into the over $10 million that the city has paid out in the last 10 years or so for privately owned sewers that were supposedly damaged by the roots of city [owned] trees."

Hoeper says immediately she saw red flags. She told ABC7 News, "I saw false statements, anomalies, and overpayments and things that just did not make sense."

She described how the alleged scheme worked. Plumbers would go to homeowners who lived on streets with city-owned trees like Alemany Boulevard, then tell the owners to file a claim against the city, take the money from the city, and give it to the plumber to install the new sewer. She claims no other city in California pays for similar work.

Hoeper's attorney Stephen Murphy said, "It's outrageous that we taxpayers are paying claims that should not be paid."

ABC7 News spoke to the owner of one of the company's that is said to be doing this kind of work. He wasn't available for an on-camera interview, but denied his contractors pursued any phony claims saying his company legitimately replaced 60 or 70 sewer lines with homeowners using a city program that ended in 2012.

That was around the same time Hoeper says she gave City Attorney Dennis Herrera a report of her findings. Her claim against the city states he closed the investigation and subsequently fired her.

"I was shocked. I mean I cannot say how shocked I was," Hoeper said.

The city attorney would not go on camera, but his office released a statement that reads in part, "These are baseless allegations of wrongdoing from a disgruntled former employee."

"I'm not disgruntled. What I am is I'm really saddened that Dennis Herrera did this, that he's covering this up and that I had to take this step," Hoeper said.

She wants an independent investigation and her job back. The city has 45 days to respond. If they don't settle, Hoeper's attorney says they're prepared to sue.
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