Federal prosecutors called it “a tale of greed as old as time” — a powerful San Francisco official at the heart of a web of kickbacks, bribery and fraud that stretched for more than a decade.
Mohammed Nuru, a former public works director, was sentenced to seven years in prison on Thursday for his role in a public corruption scheme that has implicated at least a dozen San Francisco officials and businessmen, eroded trust in City Hall and led to an exit condemned FBI investigation.
The 59-year-old Nuru “knocked down several contractors seeking lucrative city deals for well over $1 million in cash, goods and services over a 12-year period,” federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing note issued Aug. 18 at the filed in US District Court.
He funneled the money and favors to a vacation ranch in Stonyford, a community near the Mendocino National Forest north of Sacramento, whose mortgage was “paid in part by laundered bribes from city developers, with a large home being custom built by city developers.” was built and furnished, on lots maintained using equipment and floors provided by city contractors,” the memo said.
Nuru, known on Twitter as “MrCleanSF,” was deputy director of the Department of Public Works from 2000 to 2011 before being promoted to head of the department, a post he held until his arrest in early 2020.
In January, he pleaded guilty to defrauding the public of their right to honest services, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California.
Prosecutors had asked for a nine-year sentence, three years supervised release and a $35,000 fine to make an example of Nuru, who admitted in his plea agreement that several people paid him in exchange for “favorable official acts”.
“San Francisco has seen other public corruption scandals,” prosecutors wrote. “Nevertheless, the penalties imposed in these cases did little to dissuade Nuru from his behavior. A substantial sentence would signal to other officers that using their office for their personal gain will result in a substantial prison sentence.”
US Atty. Stephanie Hinds said Nuru betrayed his duty to the public.
“Nuru owed the people of San Francisco faithful, honest service,” Hinds said. “His heinous behavior undermines the public’s trust in their government.”
Leading figures involved in the scheme included San Francisco-based contractor Walter Wong, who began a corrupt relationship with Nuru in 2008, prosecutors said in a statement Thursday.
Investigators learned that Wong had repeatedly handed over envelopes containing up to $5,000 in cash and bribed Nuru with more than $260,000 in labor and materials he had donated to his San Francisco home and Stonyford vacation ranch .
The contractor also paid Nuru for several trips to China and South America, where Wong footed the bill for international flights and a stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Santiago, Chile for Nuru and then-girlfriend Sandra Zuniga.
In exchange for the payments, flights and other kickbacks, Nuru structured city requests for project proposals to ensure Wong’s company secured the contract “by providing Wong with confidential information about competitors’ bids,” prosecutors said. He also helped the contractor expedite permit approvals.
Wong and Zuniga, the former director of the mayor’s office of neighborhood services and San Francisco’s Fix-It team, pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charges and agreed to cooperate in the investigation, according to US attorneys.
Recology, a San Francisco-based waste management company, has also been implicated in Nuru’s schemes.
As director of public works, Nuru oversaw the process that set Recology’s collection rates, including the dumping fees the company charged the city. Recology bribed Nuru with soil deliveries to his vacation ranch, expensive meals, and a two-night trip to New York; At his request, the company gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to a nonprofit organization “that Nuru could access and use for other purposes,” spent $60,000 to fund public works holiday celebrations, and hired and funded Nuru’s son then a paid internship at a nonprofit organization, prosecutors said.
Two former Recology executives, Paul F. Giusti and John F. Porter, were charged with bribery and money laundering. Giusti pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges last year and is cooperating with the investigation, and Porter’s case is pending, prosecutors said.
Recology and its affiliates also resolved corporate allegations against them through a deferred prosecution agreement in which the companies paid a $36 million fine and agreed to implement enhanced corporate compliance programs and fully cooperate in the City Hall corruption investigation cooperate, prosecutors said.
Nick Bovis, a restaurateur, provided free meals and entertainment to Nuru, his family and associates, as well as approximately $22,000 worth of equipment for Nuru’s ranch in exchange for Nuru’s help in securing contracts with the city. Bovis pled guilty to wire fraud and honest services wire fraud in May 2020 and agreed to cooperate with the investigation, prosecutors said.
As of Thursday, 12 people and several companies had been indicted in the federal investigation into corruption at San Francisco City Hall, including former Public Utilities Commission general manager Harlan Kelly.
According to a federal indictment filed in October 2021, Kelly and Victor Makras, a prominent San Francisco real estate investor, were charged with bank fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Your cases are pending.
In their sentencing note, Nuru’s lawyers painted a picture of a civil servant and single father who repents of his actions and accepts responsibility for his corrupt behavior. They called for a three-year sentence, arguing that in addition to the “significant collateral consequences his behavior has caused, including the threat of loss of his pension, forfeiture of his pension, that would constitute “just and reasonable punishment.” [Stonyford] property and his negligible job prospects after release.”
“I would like to apologize once again to the people of San Francisco for my wrongdoing,” Nuru said in a statement his lawyers provided to the Times on Thursday. “Now that the conviction is behind me, I plan to focus on my family and my health in the near future. I look forward to the time when I can once again serve my community and work to repair the damage my actions have done to both the city and my family.”
Nuru will begin his sentence on January 6th. After his release, he will serve three years under custody.
He must also give up his property in Stonyford, prosecutors said.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-26/former-san-francisco-public-works-chief-mohammed-nuru-sentenced-corruption Former San Francisco public works chief sentenced for corruption