San Francisco’s head of public works, Mohammed Nuru, faces up to 25 years in prison as part of a wide-ranging FBI corruption case. Nuru, who has worked inside City Hall for the past 20 years, has been the focus of several NBC Bay Area investigations that exposed questionable contracts, Nuru’s ballooning street-cleaning budget, and serious safety violations within public works.
The FBI corruption case appears to focus on totally separate incidents and accuses Nuru of five illegal schemes which include offering bribes to steer government contracts, accepting a $2,000 bottle of wine as a gift from a Chinese developer, and allowing city employees to do construction work on his vacation home at little or no cost.
In an interview with NBC Bay Area last year, Nuru joked that his time at City Hall would likely come to an abrupt end as the result of the Investigative Unit’s continued reporting on his department.
“How much longer you going to go for?” asked Senior Investigative Reporter Bigad Shaban during a February 2019 interview with Nuru.
“I don’t know,” Nuru responded. “Until you get me fired,” he quipped.
Nuru was placed on administrative leave Monday evening, according to the San Francisco Mayor’s Office. The city administrator is expected to soon announce an interim replacement.
Nuru was named as the head of San Francisco Public Works in 2011 and oversaw the department’s $387 million budget, which has more than doubled since he took the reins.
Last year, Nuru’s department was cited for violating state safety laws, according to documents obtained by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit. Investigators with Cal/OSHA found Public Works “failed to establish and implement effective methods or procedures to correct the unsafe condition of overloading…street cleaning trucks.”
The citation came in the wake of a months-long NBC Bay Area investigation, which revealed serious safety violations inside the city’s embattled street cleaning program, including a failure to properly secure loads when transporting garbage across town to the dump. While it’s unclear how long San Francisco Public Works has potentially been breaking state safety laws, violations may have dated back at least several years.
Nuru was also the subject of an NBC Bay Area investigation in late 2018, which revealed his department paid a public relations firm hundreds of thousands of dollars for research claiming the city was nearly spotless. The city contracted the firm to assess progress within the Public Works Department, which is responsible for maintaining cleanliness along the city’s streets and sidewalks.
The high cleanliness rating, however, appeared to contradict San Francisco’s own 311 complaint records, which reflected a continued spike in service calls concerning trash, used needles, and human feces scattered across the city’s streets and sidewalks. According to data collected by the same public relations firm, JBR Partners, Inc., in 2017 San Francisco was the cleanest the city had been in four years. During that same four-year span, however, complaints regarding human feces tainting streets and sidewalks nearly doubled to roughly 21,000 cleaning requests. The firm’s findings were deemed questionable and potentially inaccurate by members of the community and the city’s own budget analysts and auditors.
The last year and a half of Nuru’s tenure at San Francisco City Hall has been under Mayor London Breed.
“These allegations against Mohammed Nuru are extremely serious, and we will cooperate fully with any investigation,” Breed wrote in a statement.
“I’m asking the City Attorney and the Controller to conduct a thorough review of any implicated City contracts or other decisions and to investigate any suspected violations of the law or the stringent guidelines and rules that ensure the integrity of our contracting process.”
Last year, during an interview with the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit, Breed was asked about Nuru’s performance.
“Do you still have confidence in his ability to lead public works,” asked Senior Investigative Reporter Bigad Shaban during a February 2019 interview with Breed.
“I’m focused on making sure that we keep our street clean,” she said.
When pressed further about whether she had confidence in Nuru, Breed said, “I’m not going to discuss any personnel related issues with the press.”