Two former environmental health inspectors for the city of San Francisco have been charged with multiple felonies for allegedly soliciting bribes from local restaurants in exchange for food safety certifications. Ajamu Stewart, 54, and Clifton Sanders, 41, both inspectors with the Department of Public Health’s Food Safety Program, were responsible for inspecting restaurants to ensure compliance with food safety laws.One of their duties was to enforce a requirement that each business employ someone who possesses a current Food Safety Manager certificate, prosecutors said.
Such certificates are issued by the city and require taking a test.But prosecutors allege that over the course of 18 months in 2007 and 2008, Stewart and Sanders allegedly solicited bribes — generally between $100 and $200 — in exchange for the certificates, then falsified documents to reflect that a proper test had been taken and passed to earn the certificate. The exams test knowledge of food storage temperatures, sanitation procedures and other standards, and prosecutors allege that the suspects would either help in filling out answers or give part of the test orally.
Speaking at a morning news conference held to announce the charges, District Attorney George Gascon called the alleged crimes “an abuse of discretion and abuse of power.””As public servants, we are entrusted to the highest level with not only the welfare of the public but the health and well-being of the entire community,” Gascon said.The case came to light after a restaurant employee reported the alleged bribery scheme to DPH, according to Richard Lee, the department’s director of environmental health regulatory programs.
Public health officials alerted the city attorney’s office, which turned the case over to the district attorney.City Attorney Dennis Herrera also spoke at today’s news conference.”It is of paramount importance that the public have confidence that the employees that are investigating and regulating food safety issues are carrying out their responsibilities with the highest degree of professionalism,” Herrera said.
The city’s investigation revealed that hundreds of restaurant managers had been improperly certified, Lee said. Those certifications have been invalidated. Gascon said prosecutors decided not to file charges against some of the restaurant employees because “it became clear to us it would be a difficult criminal case to prove, and we believe the greater culpability here goes to the public employees.
“Stewart was arrested on Dec. 5 and pleaded not guilty to eight felony charges of bribery, falsification of public records and perjury the next day. He faces up to nine years in state prison, prosecutors said. Sanders was arrested last Thursday and is scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon. He faces nine felony charges and the possibility of up to eight years in state prison.”We take public corruption very seriously,” Gascon said. “People that work for our government, they are held to a very high standard, and if they violate that high standard of trust, there will be consequences.”
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