Emails Show SF Public Works Scandal Figures Traveled Together

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Emails obtained by NBC Bay Area’s Investigative unit reveal that two figures in San Francisco’s public works corruption scandal traveled together to Africa.

The emails – between ousted Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru and Balmore Hernandez, CEO of Azul Works Inc. – indicate the two took a three week trip together to South Africa in the summer of 2014.

One of the emails, dated June 2, 2014, shows that Hernandez drew up a detailed itinerary and sent it to Nuru, saying: “I know you have it all planned in your head but this spreadsheet can be easily modified and may help us. Thanks, Balmore."

It is not clear who was paying for hotels or other expenses but the itinerary shows that both Nuru and Hernandez booked stays.

Federal charging documents allege that Contractor 1 – identified by sources with knowledge of the investigation as Hernandez – had furnished Nuru a free John Deere tractor and low-cost labor on his vacation home in Colusa County, in exchange for Nuru’s “behind the scenes” help with Azul Works’ contract to upgrade Van Ness Avenue in 2018.

While Nuru faces federal charges of lying to the FBI and wire fraud, Hernandez has not been charged in the case.

One critic was quick to seize on the emails as evidence of bidding cronyism at the city’s Department of Public Works.

“Now we see there is evidence coming to light – and It’s just the tip of the ice berg,” said attorney John Knadler, who sued the city alleging his client, San Francisco contractor Synergy Project Management, wrongly lost out on a multi-million job upgrading Van Ness Avenue.

Azul later got at least $2 million worth of that work, federal charging documents allege.  

Knadler said Monday that he and his client suspected Synergy lost out on the Van Ness job for refusing to take part in any “pay to play” relationship in the bidding process. However, that allegation is not made in the legal filings in the case.

“We always said there was something going on behind the scenes,” Knadler said, but added that the court refused to force the city to turn over emails and other communications that might have substantiated that claim. Knadler says he now intends to use the latest emails to bolster Synergy’s appeal, after having lost its contract lawsuit against the city last year in federal court.

“It’s shocking and should make the public angry that people (who) are bidding on public contracts are also wining and dining and hobnobbing with the people that decide who gets those contracts,” Knader said.

Meanwhile, NBC Bay Area has learned Azul Works is on a list of contractors whose payments have been flagged for more scrutiny by the City Controller’s office, although the controller’s memo to city department heads stresses that merely being on the list is not a finding of wrongdoing.

Attorneys for Nuru and Hernandez did not return calls seeking comment for this story.  

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