SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio officials have defended their repeated contact with a disgraced city executive after KSAT Investigates found a letter written by him was used as the catalyst for a code enforcement investigation at an elderly couple’s West Side property.
Internal records obtained by KSAT show Fernando De Leon, who served 14 months in federal prison for his role in a bribery scheme, has contacted city Public Works and Development Services Department staff on at least 74 projects since his release from custody.
De Leon served as assistant development services director for land development prior to being fired by the city at the end of March 2010.
De Leon teamed up with an employee of a local engineering firm to create a hoax company and carried out the bribery scheme between 2004 and 2009, according to his federal indictment.
The two men would submit fake invoices and inflate the cost of expediting permits, eventually splitting the illegal proceeds.
“Defendant De Leon would push city officials and employees to expedite permitting issues identified by De Leon’s co-defendant,” according to the indictment.
The various illegal transactions included one from late 2007 in which De Leon forged his sister’s name on a check from the hoax company and used it as a down payment on a Mercedes-Benz, the indictment states.
De Leon pleaded guilty in federal court in 2014 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and use of interstate communication facilities to facilitate bribery, federal records show.
He was sentenced to serve 14 months in federal prison in August 2015 and ordered to pay nearly $285,000 in restitution.
De Leon’s co-conspirator was sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay over $315,000 in restitution, Department of Justice officials previously said.
De Leon was released from federal custody in November 2016, Federal Bureau of Prisons records show.
‘Good Afternoon Razi, I hope you are doing well’
Within months of getting out of prison, De Leon began communicating with city officials on various construction projects around San Antonio.
De Leon first worked for another person’s development consulting firm before establishing his own firm, One Stop Code Consulting, in 2017, public information shows.
Following a public records request from KSAT, the city released more than 2,400 pages of documents detailing De Leon’s extensive communication with city staff.
De Leon at times has reached out directly to Development Services Department Director Michael Shannon and Public Works Director Razi Hosseini, records show.
“Good Afternoon Razi, I hope you are doing well. I have not seen you or spoken to you in a long long time,” wrote De Leon in a February 2017 email regarding a water and sewer main permitting issue.
Hosseini responded that he was glad De Leon was doing well.
De Leon’s communication with Shannon includes a letter sent to the DSD director in July 2022 outlining plans to demolish a building.
De Leon has met with city staff at job sites and at times has pointed out to them the proper interpretation of the city’s building code.
Officials in recent weeks have defended the contact between city staff and De Leon, stating he is a “customer” of the city and that they cannot discriminate against people with criminal backgrounds when issuing permits.
Shannon pushed back specifically on a question from KSAT about whether De Leon had pressured his staff to approve permits in recent years.
“It’s a lot of requests for either permits or conditional permits to help a project move forward. And that’s very similar to what a lot of our customers are looking for is to get through the development process as quick as they can,” Shannon said. “He’s not contracted with the city, he’s not working for the city. But, like any customer who comes in and applies for a development permit, we’ll review and work with that customer to see if it complies with city codes.”
“As long as we are not giving them a contract, anybody can apply as long as they meet the requirement,” Hosseini added.
Both men said they played no role in the 2010 decision to fire De Leon while he was under criminal investigation.
De Leon letter angers West Side family
In an interview with KSAT at his near West Side office, De Leon discussed his past legal troubles.
“What I did was a mistake and I paid my price for it and that’s because I’ll tell you the truth: I trusted people. You trust people and they take you for a ride. I had to have better judgment. I didn’t. I paid my price, but I work hard,” De Leon said.
De Leon confirmed to KSAT that he was hired by Michael Westheimer, a partner in Vicinia, a mixed residential and business development at Potranco Road and West Military Drive, to do background research on a piece of property that borders the West Side project.
“Westheimer was the one that gave me a call. He said ‘do we have research?’ I did the research, gave it to him and that was it,” De Leon said.
The subsequent January 2021 letter from De Leon to his client Westheimer raised multiple concerns about the strip of land in the 8200 block of Potranco Road, including claims that a certificate of occupancy was issued by the city in error, that a front parking area used to store semitrucks was not paved and that flood concerns on the property created a “life safety issue.”
Reached via telephone, Westheimer told KSAT that De Leon’s research was part of the due diligence done by his group as it was looking to purchase the land, which is owned by an elderly couple who lives at the back of the property while operating the commercial parking lot at the front.
Westheimer confirms his group made multiple offers to buy the property, as Vicinia believed early on that it needed to acquire the land to help with drainage.
“They thought they held the key to our development. They are nice people but are unsophisticated,” said Westheimer, when asked by KSAT about Vicinia’s offers to purchase being well below what the couple was asking.
Westheimer said his group eventually hired an engineer and found a drainage solution without needing to purchase the couple’s property.
The land is currently listed for sale on multiple real estate websites for $5 million.
The property owners’ son, Filiberto Gonzalez Jr., told KSAT in an interview this summer that his parents began having conflicts with San Antonio code enforcement officers shortly after rejecting Vicinia’s offers.
“The problems began because my parents did not want to sell to the developer,” Gonzalez said.
KSAT could find no record that De Leon or anyone affiliated with One Stop Code Consulting has been implicated in professional misconduct or charged with any crimes since De Leon’s release from prison.
De Leon’s letter makes it way to San Antonio Development Services
Internal city records show De Leon’s letter about the property and its possible violations was eventually sent to DSD officials.
A March 2021 email from Shannon himself was labeled high importance and asked for a 45-minute meeting with several staff members to review the allegations contained in the letter and to list confirmed violations, if any, at the property.
Shannon confirmed his office currently has an ongoing code enforcement case at the couple’s property over the lack of paving in the semitruck storage area.
“We responded to some information or call that there was a violation or potential violations there, and when we did we checked the zoning and the certificate of occupancy, and that’s a typical process when we get called out to a site,” Shannon said.
City officials confirm the letter was forwarded to DSD by staff of District 6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda, after her office had received a copy of it.
A city spokesman told KSAT via email the city is unaware of who sent the letter to District 6 or who from the council office received it.
“The Development Services Department does not know who provided this letter to the District 6 Office. Anonymous allegations of code violations are not uncommon. The City must ensure properties remain code-compliant regardless of the source of any allegation,” wrote Brian Chasnoff, Assistant Director of Infrastructure Communications.
Westheimer was adamant during his interview with KSAT that he did not share the letter with the city.
Neither he or anyone associated with Vicinia has been implicated in any professional misconduct or charged with any crimes in connection with the Gonzalez family’s property.
San Antonio City Council in 2011 approved zoning that allows the elderly couple to live at the back of the property while continuing to store semitrucks as a commercial parking business in the front of it, city records show.
The couple had looked into pouring concrete in the parking area, but determined it was too expensive and would constantly need repairs due to cracking, city records show.
The zoning case moved forward without the improvement being made, after the couple agreed to prohibit oil changes from being done on the property, emails show.
But as recently as last summer, an assistant city attorney wrote that there is no document stating the city agreed to not require the paving.
“Per my clients, there was never an agreement to waive that requirement and no one can locate any such document reflecting such an agreement so far,” the attorney wrote in June 2022.
Gonzalez Jr. said the timing of the city’s decision to suddenly enforce code violations at his parents’ property is troubling, after so many years of apparently turning a blind eye to the issue.
KSAT was present for the groundbreaking of Vicinia in the fall of 2019, but the project appears far from being completed.
Westheimer said he had no update on when it will move into its next stage of development and that it was always planned to be a long-term project.
Shannon confirmed that Vicinia was assessed a $2,000 fine over the cutting down of trees on its property.
“They cut down some trees before they had permission to. We have since determined that they were allowed to cut down the trees had they come in and got the permits first,” Shannon said.
Editorial note: Gonzalez Jr. and the owners of the property, his parents, are related by marriage to a KSAT producer.