Nick Bovis, appearing via video conference wearing a black and white Adidas track jacket, pleaded guilty Thursday to federal wire fraud charges and officially agreed to cooperate with the FBI’s ongoing probe into San Francisco’s public corruption scandal.
Bovis, the well-known owner of Lefty O’Douls, remains free as part of the deal in which he acknowledges that he, along with now ousted San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, arranged to offer a bribe to an airport commissioner two years ago. The men allegedly hoped the payment would help Bovis obtain a lucrative SFO food concession contract.
Federal court documents filed in connection with the plea deal indicate Bovis’ wrongdoing extends as far back as 2015, but the details remain sealed under the plea agreement. Bovis is now awaiting sentencing. Meanwhile, Nuru has denied allegations of fraud and a separate charge of lying to federal agents.
As federal investigators and the San Francisco City Attorney continue to widen their probes, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit has obtained a trove of Public Works financial records and employee text messages and emails under the city’s Sunshine Ordinance.
Those records document Bovis’ connection to an off-the-books $1 million fund, financed by firms and contractors doing business with the city, that ultimately paid for Public Works parties, swag, and other perks over the past five years.
As NBC Bay Area first reported in April, the fund was in the name of a major non-profit, the San Francisco Parks Alliance, but financial records show spending from the account was controlled by high-level Public Works managers, including Nuru.
The records show that Bovis and his foundation, the Lefty O’Doul’s Foundation for Kids, were paid about $25,000 from the fund over the past five years to cater several Public Works holiday parties, with the final payment coming shortly before his arrest earlier this year.
“[You’ve got] department officials who are going around the standard process and transparency for how money comes in, getting money from people they’re contracting with and have authority over, and then turning around and spending some of that money, without any oversight, on their friends,” said San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney, who reviewed the financial records obtained by NBC Bay Area.
One of those parties was a Public Works holiday bash last December. As the San Francisco Examiner first reported in February, much of the tab for that party was paid by donations from large firms to Bovis’ Lefty O’Doul’s Foundation for Kids. Those firms told NBC Bay Area they believed they were donating to a holiday party for children, not Public Works employees.
Those checks, it turns out, didn’t cover the entire price tag of the affair. Public Works financial records and employee text messages show how Bovis was eventually paid the remaining balance, about $10,000, through the Public Works-controlled Parks Alliance account.
In one of those messages, Bovis texted a Public Works official: “I talked to Mohammed. He needs me to make an invoice or they can cut me a check tomorrow. I’m a little tight to pay all the people.”
The official replied, “I’m here to help you out.”
A few days later, that same official sends another text message to Bovis, saying: “Did you receive the check from the Parks Alliance?”
Financial records confirm Bovis received a $9,200 check from the Parks Alliance fund in January. Days later, he was arrested by the FBI.
The San Francisco Parks Alliance has declined several interview requests from NBC Bay Area but said in a statement it was cooperating with investigators. It was one of more than 20 firms hit with subpoenas by the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office as part of the ongoing corruption investigation.
In April, the City Attorney’s office declined to discuss the Parks Alliance fund, citing its ongoing inquiry, but said in a statement:
“We are in the midst of a wide-ranging investigation that has included 24 subpoenas to date. That investigation continues, despite the pandemic, so we are not going to discuss specific details. But make no mistake, we are following the evidence wherever it leads. We're going to get to the bottom of this. The people of San Francisco deserve no less.”
Haney said he wants to learn more about the fund, and why Public Works was letting city contractors pay for its parties.
“When you have a government that is operating like this, it is the residents who get screwed over in the end.”