For two decades, civil engineer Jimmy Jen has had a shady reputation: a grand theft conviction, suspected serial arson and flagrant disregard for city regulations.
That reputation grew Wednesday when District Attorney Kamala Harris announced that 56-year-old Jen and colleague Jian Min Fong have been charged with some 243 felony counts of forging approximately 500 city documents and defrauding 100 property owners during the course of 20 years.
According to Harris, Jen is an “on-again, off-again licensed engineer” who at least once had his license revoked by the state.
He was often hired as an “expediter” by owners of single-family homes, along with buildings such as the Alexandria Theater on Geary Boulevard, to facilitate the labyrinth permitting process at City Hall, particularly at the Department of Building Inspection.
Rather than hiring a licensed engineer to review the construction projects he was hired to obtain permits for, prosecutors allege he simply had stamps made impersonating two other licensed engineers, who apparently knew nothing about the fraud.
The case brings to light questions that have been raised before about The City’s construction-approval process because allegedly none of the forged signatures on the 500 documents were checked for authenticity, and the engineers being impersonated were not contacted with questions about the projects.
Jen and Fong, 40, will be arraigned in San Francisco Superior Court on Friday.
Harris did not confirm if there was collusion within the Department of Building Inspection or with city officials, but she said the investigation is ongoing and there are “questions remaining.”
Asked why none of the forgeries were detected, department spokesman William Strawn said the agency receives some 60,000 permit applications a year and unless there is a major question about the engineering of a project, they rarely have cause to contact the civil engineer or surveyor. He said department officials largely “rely on the accuracy and truthfulness of the
“We are certainly cooperating with [the District Attorney’s Office] to find out if missteps took place or if we need to tighten up our scrutiny so these kinds of things don’t happen in the future,” Strawn said.
It’s not the first time Jen has been suspected of wrongdoing.
He was associated with four suspicious building fires in San Francisco between 1990 and 2009. Jen owes The City an estimated $1.5 million after a judge ruled against him in 2004 for illegal construction and illegal conduct in San Francisco. And in the mid-1990s, he was convicted of grand theft for purchasing items with a phony credit card.