Federal prosecutors announced Friday that former San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru has agreed to plead guilty to fraud in the city’s ongoing corruption scandal, a deal that involves dropping charges of lying to the FBI and money laundering, and prosecutors seeking no more than a nine-year prison term.
At a hearing on Friday, Nuru, 59, formally entered not guilty pleas to three newly filed charges, which could carry as much as 45 years in prison. Federal prosecutors say that denial is the first step before Nuru will plead guilty next month to one count of honest services wire fraud – which alone carries a 20-year term -- in what they called to a “long-running scheme involving multiple bribes and kickbacks.”
“Mohammed Nuru admits to a staggering amount of public corruption in his plea agreement,” said Northern California U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds in a statement. “For years, Nuru held a powerful and well-paid public leadership position at San Francisco City Hall, but instead of serving the public, Nuru served himself.”
“He has learned a lot from his past mistakes,” Nuru’s lawyer Ismail Ramsey said in statement, adding that his client is “ready to accept responsibility in this matter and begin to put it behind him.”
“Going forward, he intends to focus on his health and dedicate himself to improving the lives of others and his community in any way he can.”
While the deal specifies charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and lying to the FBI will be dropped, the Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco FBI office stressed that the plea announcement “is by no means the end” of the agency’s federal corruption probe, which has implicated a number of now disgraced city officials and contactors.
It is unclear if Nuru is agreeing to cooperate with that probe, howeverr.
Among the new revelations contained in the plea agreement, Nuru admits receiving $20,000 in cash bribes from an unnamed former “government employee” in exchange for Nuru’s help hiring a “particular person’ for a city engineering job. In the end, the person was not able to "maintain employment" with the city, prosecutors said.
Nuru also admits that an unnamed prominent developer gave him thousands of dollars each year during the holidays in exchange for Nuru’s availability to help on projects. Nuru said the cash was so he could be called on "if he had any problems" with DPW approvals "or any other matters and I would help resolve whatever issues he was facing."
But the bulk of the agreement covers areas previously alleged by authorities, including his admitting that he accepted what prosecutors call a “a stream of bribes” from longtime permit expediter Walter Wong in exchange for Nuru helping Wong secure city contracts, including insider information about bidding specifications and help expediting Wong project permits.
The “corrupt relationship” lasted more than a decade and began when Wong – who has also entered a plea agreement with prosecutors -- installed a gate at Nuru’s San Francisco home for Nuru’s help getting contracts, according to prosecutors. They say Wong also provided more than a quarter of a million dollars in labor and materials at Nuru’s 10-acre vacation ranch property in Colusa County.
Nuru also admitted he bypassed the bidding process to hire Wong’s firm to build a homeless navigation center and a separate homeless shelter between 2017 and 2020. He separately used his position to order Public Works and city Public Utilities Commission to provide Christmas lights for one of Wong’s businesses.
In return, Wong furnished Nuru with envelopes filled with as much as $5,000 in cash. Wong also bought a chandelier, kitchen appliances, and furniture for Nuru’s San Francisco home and paid for several trips to China and one trip to South America, putting up Nuru and his then girlfriend, Sandra Zuniga, at the Ritz-Carlton in Santiago, Chile.
Nuru took in gifts and free trips for the work he did with Wong to help a billionaire developer from China, prosecutors say, on the 555 Fulton Street project in San Francisco.
Nuru also admits that Recology Inc., the city’s waste management company, provided him everything from free soil on his ranch property to a job for his son, in exchange for his consideration on garbage rates and other city contracts.
As head of public works, Nuru presided over the rate-setting process for the monopoly garbage contractor.
He also had the power to endorse rate hikes and influence how much Recology could charge the Department of Public Works for accepting DPW concrete at its Sustainable Crushing recycling facility.
In return, Recology poured the bulk of the money for a $1 million off-the books fund run by San Francisco Parks Alliance that was used to pay for everything from DPW holiday parties to funerals for employees.
In the plea agreement, Nuru admitted he asked the company to hire his son. Nuru’s son ended up earning $17,0000 between 2015 and 2017 from Recology, and later was paid $23,600 for an internship with a Recology-funded non-profit.
Nuru separately admits he took bribes from former restaurant owner Nick Bovis, who has also entered into a plea agreement, in exchange for his help getting city contracts. The bribes ranged from free meals to free appliances for his ranch home.
Nuru admitted that he expected tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks for helping Bovis. Nuru admitted he tried to help Bovis get a restaurant concession at San Francisco International airport. Nuru said he gave Bovis a list of appliances worth $22,000 that Bovis provided him for his ranch at that time.