Former Top Official to Cooperate in SF Corruption Scandal

In this March 19, 2015 photo, Mohammed Nuru, director of San Francisco Public Works, is interviewed at the Tenderloin Pit Stop mobile bathrooms in San Francisco.
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

A former member of San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s staff has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and will cooperate with federal prosecutors in San Francisco’s widening corruption scandal, court records filed Tuesday show.

In a federal court filing, Sandra Zuniga admitted she was involved in depositing $1,000 monthly in allegedly ill-gotten funds into her bank account. Prosecutors said she then used that money to secretly pay the mortgage on former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru’s vacation home in Colusa county.

Previous court documents alleged Zuniga and Nuru were romantically involved. The ousted Nuru faces prosecution for allegedly accepting bribes, including free travel and gifts, from various contractors in exchange for inside consideration on bids.

Prosecutors say that while the details remain sealed, the conspiracy involving Nuru as alleged now stretches back to 2010.

According to her plea agreement, Zuniga admitted to knowing at the time “the property involved in the financial transaction represented the proceeds” of Nuru’s alleged wire fraud.

“I acted knowing the transaction was designed in whole or part to disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, or control of the proceeds of the specified unlawful activity,” she said in the plea agreement filed Tuesday.

At the time she was charged last June, Zuniga headed the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services as well as the Public Works Fix-It Team.

Zuniga, 45, of South San Francisco, admitted that she was involved in various schemes over a six year period, ending in January of 2020, prosecutors say, adding that she accompanied Nuru in 2018 “on a lavish two-week trip to South America, with business class flights and Ritz-Carlton accommodations, all subsidized or paid entirely by a contractor doing business with the City.”

Also cooperating in the federal investigation are restaurant owner Nick Bovis, contractor and permit expediter Walter Wong, contractor Balmore Hernandez and entrepreneur Florence Kong.

In a court filing, prosecutors say a total of five defendants have agreed to provide prosecutors information “against Mohammed Nuru and others, involving a scheme to defraud the City and County of San Francisco, and the people of San Francisco, of the honest services and related public corruption offenses.”

Acting United States Attorney Stephanie Hinds issued a statement about the plea agreement late Tuesday. “This investigation continues, but the window of time for cooperation is closing,” she said. “If you are involved in public corruption at any level, reach out to the FBI before the FBI reaches out to you. Early cooperation is always viewed favorably.”

"The FBI is very interested in interviewing San Francisco city government employees and contractors who may have first-hand knowledge of this public corruption scandal,” added FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair, in a statement.

"We believe that there are still city employees and contractors who may have pertinent knowledge that would be crucial to the ongoing investigation. In her plea agreement, Sandra Zuniga has agreed to cooperate with the FBI. We encourage others who have knowledge of this to do the same."

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