The San Francisco official known around town as “Mr. Clean” and the charity-promoting restaurateur whom federal officials say conspired to line their own pockets at the expense of taxpayers’ trust appeared in court Thursday for the first time since their arrest last week.
The FBI arrested public works director Mohammed Nuru and restaurateur Nick Bovis Jan. 27, saying the men schemed in 2018 to bribe a San Francisco airport commissioner for prime restaurant space at San Francisco International Airport. The commissioner did not take the $5,000 bribe.
Nuru, 57, and Bovis, 56, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim for bond hearings Thursday. They are each free on $2 million bail and have started paperwork to secure those bonds with personal property.
The men are longtime friends, but they did not speak to each other in court Thursday.
Nuru left the courtroom with his lawyer, Ismail Ramsey, who declined comment. Bovis and his lawyers huddled in the cafeteria after the hearing. They also declined comment.
Before the hearing, however, Michael Stepanian called his client, Bovis, a good man.
“He wants to get to the bottom and put this behind him. He understands what he did, but there’s legal aspects and fact aspects you have to put together to make a determination” on criminality, Stepanian said.
The U.S. attorney’s office for Northern California says the two participated in a scheme “to defraud the public of its right to the honest services of a public official through bribery or kickbacks” in violation of their duty.
Nuru goes by the Twitter handle “MrCleanSF” because since 2012 he has overseen the city’s department of public works, which is responsible for cleaning streets, and he was a deputy there before that. The department also handles the design and construction of city facilities and has a project portfolio of more than $5.6 billion. He is on paid leave.
Mayors and other city leaders depended on Nuru’s crews to clean up streets before public events, which he did without being asked. Critics say his department was heavy-handed in sweeping up homeless camps. Also, sidewalks may have sparkled for photo ops, but they didn’t stay that way for long, they say.
Bovis runs a Christmas toy drive for needy children. He is the owner of several businesses, including Lefty O’ Doul’s, a popular sports bar fo rced out of its longtime Union Square spot in 2017. The grand re-opening of Lefty’s at Fisherman’s Wharf in 2018 was attended by Mayor London Breed, other elected leaders and Nuru.
The corruption allegations have upended San Francisco City Hall, with Breed and others professing outrage and ignorance that cozy, illegal back-scratching could happen in their city. The city attorney and controller offices are investigating. Supervisors have called for an outside audit.
The fallout continues as journalists scramble to connect the dots in a hefty 75-page indictment where unnamed contractors, developers, executives and employees are referenced in conversations caught on surveillance.
The San Francisco Examiner reported Thursday that Bovis allegedly diverted charitable contributions from contractors who had business before Nuru for a lavish holiday party in 2017 for Nuru’s public works employees. The donations to “Lefty O’Doul’s Foundation for Kids” was meant to benefit children.
Prosecutors say Nuru accepted lavish gifts from people with city business, including a $2,000 bottle of wine and travel from a wealthy Chinese developer seeking to build a large mixed-use building in San Francisco.
“Thank you very much for all your generosity while we were in China. We had a great vacation and my daughter had a wonderful time. I will do my very best to see that your project gets completed,” he wrote to the developer in November 2018, according to the complaint.
Nuru took deeply discounted or free help fixing up his vacation home in rural Northern California, prosecutors say.
They say he worked to help Bovis on city bids for portable toilets and container-type portable housing for the homeless. Bovis also sought Nuru’s help in trying to score restaurant space at the $2 billion Transbay Transit Center.
“I encourage the city attorney and controller to follow every lead, every dollar, and every complaint, and to make policy recommendations to help prevent future wrongdoing,” Breed said in a statement this week.