Property Developer Z&L Properties Fined $1 Million After Pleading Guilty To Honest Services Fraud Conspiracy
SAN FRANCISCO – Z&L Properties Inc., a Foster City, California-based subsidiary of a Chinese property development company, was ordered to pay a $1 million fine as part of its sentence for bribing a San Francisco official in exchange for favorable treatment on a construction project, announced First Assistant United States Attorney Patrick D. Robbins and Federal Bureau of Investigation, San Francisco Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Robert K. Tripp. The sentence was handed down by the Hon. William H. Orrick, United States District Judge.
According to the plea agreement, Z&L Properties’ executives approved or paid bribes to former San Francisco Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, including providing him and another individual with food, drinks, lodging, and transportation during a trip to China in 2018. The purpose of the payments was to influence Nuru to act favorably on Z&L Properties’ requests for city approvals needed to complete construction of a mixed-use property owned by Z&L Properties at 555 Fulton Street in San Francisco.
Z&L Properties was charged by Information on July 18, 2023, with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and one count of honest services wire fraud. Z&L Properties pleaded guilty to the criminal scheme on August 17, 2023. In addition to the $1 million fine, Judge Orrick ordered Z&L Properties to implement a three-year anti-corruption corporate compliance program.
Also charged in the scheme was Zhang Li, 70, of Guangzhou, China. Zhang was the owner and controlling member of Z&L Properties as well as the chairman, co-founder, and chief executive officer of R&F Properties Co. Ltd., a real estate holdings and development company based in Guangzhou, China. R&F Properties does business in the United States through Z&L Properties Ltd. Zhang was charged by Criminal Complaint for his role in bribing Nuru. Zhang was arrested in London in November 2022 on an arrest warrant issued in the Northern District of California. He was required to post a £15 million ($19.1 million) bond and remained under house arrest in London for seven months before being extradited to the United States. Zhang waived extradition in June, returned to the United States, and entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the United States.
This case is part of a larger federal investigation targeting public corruption in the City and County of San Francisco. Nuru was charged in January 2020 with a long-running honest services fraud scheme. Nuru pleaded guilty to several charges on January 6, 2022, and was sentenced to serve 84 months in federal prison on August 25, 2022. Another defendant, Wing Lok “Walter” Wong was charged in June 2020 with conspiracy to defraud the public of its right to honest services and with conspiracy to engage in money laundering, both involving Nuru and others. Wong entered a guilty plea and agreed to cooperate with the government’s corruption investigations. Judge Orrick has scheduled Wong’s sentencing hearing for January 18, 2024.
Assistant United States Attorney David Ward is prosecuting the case. The prosecution is the result of a multi-year investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation.