Top San Francisco officials vowed Wednesday to crack down on corrupt city workers who shake down food operators, after the arraignments of two former health inspectors who allegedly traded restaurant food safety certifications for cash.
Ajamu Stewart, 54, and Clifton Sanders, 41, are facing prison sentences of nine and eight years, respectively, on charges that they sold certifications to hundreds of restaurant workers and owners during 18 months in 2007 and 2008.
The alleged bribes did not create a food safety scare and most of the restaurants have since been properly certified, city officials said.
Some food managers simply didn’t understand the inspection process and were misled into shelling out $100 to $200 to be certified, District Attorney George Gascón said Wednesday.
Other restaurant managers may have been complicit in the scam. However, Gascón said charges against them would be difficult to prove and that the public workers were more culpable in the crime.
As part of the inspection process, at least one person working at a restaurant must pass a food safety exam. Instead of taking the test, the suspects sold them certification, prosecutors said. The inspectors allegedly filled out the tests themselves or shared the correct answers.
The state-required exam tests sanitation knowledge such as temperatures at which certain foods need to be kept, said Richard Lee, director of the Public Health Department’s environmental health services.
The alleged bribery scheme came to light after a restaurateur reported it to health officials, Lee said. That led to a lengthy investigation by the City Attorney’s Office.