SAN FRANCISCO – Florence Kong was sentenced today to one year and one day in prison and ordered to pay a $95,000 fine for bribery of a public official and making false statements to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, announced United States Attorney David L. Anderson and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair. The sentence was handed down by the Honorable William H. Orrick, United States District Judge.
“The sentence handed down today recognizes the seriousness of Florence Kong’s offenses,” said U.S. Attorney Anderson. “Both corrupt officials and those who corrupt them are accountable for their crimes. Our City Hall prosecutions are not over. The investigation continues.”
“The FBI’s ongoing public corruption investigation continues to uncover a pernicious pattern of criminal activity committed by San Francisco city contractors, motivated by greed, who exploit their relationships with public officials,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair. “In this case, a Bay Area millionaire used her wealth to bribe Mr. Nuru and secure her own company’s contract; leaving honest, hardworking contractors unable to compete for business and ultimately compromising the entire system of fair competition.”
Kong, 63, of Hayward and formerly of Hillsborough, California, pleaded guilty to the bribery and false statement charges on October 8, 2020. As part of the guilty plea, Kong admitted in her plea agreement to bribing Mohammed Nuru, then-Director of San Francisco’s Department of Public Works (DPW), by giving him a gold Rolex watch she purchased for him for $36,550 on or about December 19, 2019. Kong bribed Nuru in return for past and future actions benefitting her businesses, including as a reward for directing business to her company SFR Recovery Inc. SFR Recovery Inc. is a recycling plant that had a public contract with the City and County of San Francisco to dispose of construction debris. Kong admitted she believed that Nuru was one of the most powerful public officials in San Francisco who, as DPW Director, wielded tremendous influence over San Francisco’s public contracts, permits, and DPW business as well as other City departments and agencies. Kong also admitted to making false statements repeatedly to FBI agents who interviewed her during the investigation, falsely stating that Nuru was her friend but they never discussed business, that he never helped her with contracts, and that she never gave Nuru money.
In a filed sentencing memorandum, the government asserted facts providing a broader description of the investigation. The government stated the investigation developed information that Kong is a multi-millionaire owner of a group of construction and real estate businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area, of which SFR Recovery Inc. is only one. In 2018, Kong began pressuring Nuru to award SFR Recovery Inc. a permit to accept work from DPW and, once awarded, repeatedly pressed Nuru to increase the business DPW did with SFR Recovery Inc. During this time, Kong showered Nuru with gifts, including the $36,550 gold Rolex watch that Kong gave Nuru in return for official actions on Kong’s behalf.
In January 2020, Mohammed Nuru was arrested and charged with fraud and lying to investigators. According to the government’s sentencing memorandum, three months after that, on March 20, 2020, FBI agents interviewed Kong at her home in Hillsborough, California. Kong repeatedly lied to and attempted to mislead the agents. The agents, who by that time had substantial evidence through emails and recorded phone calls that Kong was bribing Nuru, warned Kong that providing false statements to the FBI was a crime. Kong stuck with her falsehoods.
A photograph of the gold Rolex watch is attached to the government’s sentencing memo and printed below:
On June 1, 2020, Kong was charged in United States District Court by a Complaint, with one count of False Statements to a Government Agency, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2). On September 16, 2020, Kong was further charged via an Information with the false statements charge and with the additional charge of Bribery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1). On October 8, 2020, Kong pled guilty to the charges in the Information, that is, one count of Bribery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1), and one count of False Statements to a Government Agency, in violation of § 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(2).
This case is part of a larger federal investigation targeting public corruption in the City and County of San Francisco. To date, ten individuals have been charged, including two high-ranking San Francisco public officials, Mohammed Nuru and Harlan Kelly. Multiple city contractors and facilitators have been charged. According to the charges earlier filed against Mohammed Nuru and others, Nuru allegedly took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, including cash, meals, and work on his vacation home from contractors who obtained San Francisco public contracts. According to allegations in the complaint filed earlier against Harlan Kelly, he similarly received thousands of dollars in airfare, meals, jewelry, and travel expenses, along with repair work on his house.
In addition to the prison term, United States District Judge Orrick also sentenced the defendant to a three-year period of supervised release. Kong is out of custody and will begin serving her prison sentence on Aug 13, 2021.
The case is being prosecuted by the Corporate Fraud Strike Force of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The case is being investigated by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI).