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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, August 25, 2022

Former San Francisco Public Works Director Sentenced To Seven Years In Federal Prison

Mohammed Nuru, Director Of SF DPW Until His Arrest In 2020, Sentenced For Bribery And Kickbacks Dating Back To 2008

SAN FRANCISCO – Former San Francisco City Hall public official Mohammed Colin Nuru was sentenced today to 84 months (7 years) in federal prison for honest services wire fraud, announced United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan, and Internal Revenue Service–Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Mark H. Pearson.  The sentence was handed down by United States District Judge William H. Orrick.  

Nuru, 59, was first arrested on January 17, 2020, following the filing of a 79-page federal criminal complaint against him.  Nuru was then the Director of the San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW) and had held that position since 2011, when he was elevated from the DPW Deputy Director of Operations position that he had held since 2000.  The complaint charged Nuru with honest services fraud in public office, alleging a long-running scheme of bribes and kickbacks during his DPW tenure.  A second federal complaint filed January 28, 2020, charged Nuru for lying to a federal agent following his arrest.  

On January 6, 2022, Nuru pleaded guilty to the charge of defrauding the public of its right to his honest services, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 1346.  

“Mohammed Nuru’s prison sentence is punishment for more than a decade of public corruption,” said United States Attorney Stephanie Hinds. “As San Francisco’s Department of Public Works Deputy Director and then its Director, Nuru owed the people of San Francisco a duty of faithful, honest services.  Instead, he betrayed that duty.  For at least twelve years, Nuru shook down contractors eager for City business, trading his authority and influence for millions of dollars in cash, construction work, travel, meals, and gifts.  His abhorrent conduct erodes the public’s trust in its government, and this case demonstrates the justice system can and will punish corrupt public officials.”

“Mohammed Nuru’s long-running scheme of bribes and kickbacks ultimately earned him seven years in prison.  Today’s sentence sends a clear message that public officials who abuse their power for personal gain will be punished,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan.  “The FBI’s investigation into this case is not over.  We will continue to unravel and disrupt corruption within the city of San Francisco.”

“Corruption happens in the shadows, often with the help of professional enablers who perpetuate fraudulent schemes and the corrupt who launder and hide their illicit wealth.  The Oakland Field Office of IRS Criminal Investigation has dedicated resources to unraveling the truth behind the extensive web of corruption, which Mohammed Nuru presided over, during his tenure leading the San Francisco Department of Public Works,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Mark H. Pearson.  “Today’s sentencing is a true reflection of the collaborative commitment between IRS-CI, the FBI, and the USAO-NDCA to protect public welfare, the people in our communities, and bring justice to light.”

In his plea agreement, Nuru admits to a pervasive corruption scheme involving bribery, kickbacks and fraud that spanned at least his last 12 years in office.  During that time, Nuru sat not only as Deputy Director of Operations and then Director at DPW but also as a member of the Board of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA).  Appointed to the TJPA board in 2014, Nuru eventually became its Chair.  From these positions, Nuru exercised substantial power and influence over San Francisco (the City) business and policy, including its public contracts, permits, and construction projects.  Nuru’s authority made him a powerful public official in the City.

Nuru’s admissions detail his broad array of graft in office, and a sample of them are below: 

Walter Wong:  Nuru’s corrupt relationship with San Francisco-based contractor Walter Wong began in 2008.  Nuru accepted envelopes of cash containing as much as $5,000 at a time from Wong, and Wong bribed Nuru with more than $260,000 in construction labor and materials provided to Nuru’s San Francisco home and his vacation ranch property located in Stonyford in Colusa County.  Wong also paid for Nuru to travel to China multiple times and to South America, footing the bill for international flights and a stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Santiago, Chile, for Nuru and his then-girlfriend Sandra Zuniga, another City official.  In exchange, Nuru helped Wong secure City contracts by structuring the City’s Request for Proposals (RFPs) to ensure Wong’s company secured the contract, by providing Wong with confidential information on competitors’ bids, and by helping Wong expedite permit approvals.  

Recology:  Recology Inc. is a waste management company headquartered in San Francisco and the parent company of Sunset Scavenger Company, Golden Gate Disposal & Recycling Company, and Recology San Francisco (collectively referred to as Recology) that provided collection and disposal services for residential and commercial customers located in the City and for the City itself.  In his DPW Director’s position, Nuru presided over the process governing the rates that Recology could charge, including “tipping fee” rates that Recology charged DPW when DPW dumped materials at a Recology facility.  In exchange for favorable treatment from Nuru, Nuru describes that Recology bribed him with soil delivered to his Colusa County ranch, expensive meals, and a two-night trip to New York in December 2017.  At Nuru’s request, Recology also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a San Francisco non-profit for a cleaning program that Nuru could access and use for other purposes, and Recology further funded DPW holiday parties with $60,000 in donations.  Recology also arranged and funded the hiring of a Nuru family member.  

Nick Bovis:  Nuru received multiple bribes from restaurateur Nick Bovis, including free meals and entertainment for Nuru, his family, and associates at restaurants owned by Bovis and thousands of dollars in free appliances for Nuru’s ranch property.  Nuru also expected tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from proceeds that Bovis would earn from City concessions or contracts awarded to Bovis.  In exchange, Nuru used his official acts and influence to assist Bovis in obtaining public business and contracts with the City.  

Florence Kong:  Nuru accepted a gold Rolex watch valued at $36,550, cash, and an iron fence installed at Nuru’s ranch from businesswoman Florence Kong.  In exchange, Nuru used his official position to benefit Kong’s businesses, including a recycling business owned by Kong.  

Balmore Hernandez, William Gilmartin, & Alan Varela:  In a series of bribes and kickbacks from Balmore Hernandez, William Gilmartin, and Alan Varela, Nuru received a brand new tractor for his vacation ranch, free meals, and cash.  Nuru also expected to receive a portion of the proceeds from anticipated City contracts awarded to them.  In exchange, Nuru exercised his official authority and influence to benefit their City business ventures.

These are just examples of some of the bribes Nuru admitted in his plea agreement.  Multiple other individuals paid Nuru in exchange for favorable official acts from him. 

In addition to the sentence of imprisonment, United States District Judge William H. Orrick ordered a three year term of supervision of Nuru upon his release from prison.  He also ordered the forfeiture to the United States of Nuru’s vacation ranch property in Stonyford, California.  Nuru will surrender to begin serving his sentence on January 6, 2023.   

This case is part of a larger federal investigation targeting public corruption in the City and County of San Francisco.  To date, twelve individuals and multiple corporate entities have been charged, including another high-ranking San Francisco public official, the former San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager Harlan Kelly.  Charges against Harlan Kelly remain pending.  Multiple city contractors and facilitators have also been charged.   

The case is being prosecuted by the Corporate and Securities Fraud Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  The case was investigated by the FBI and IRS-CI.  
 

Updated August 25, 2022