Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, a top city official, faces up to 25 years in prison on FBI corruption charges surrounding alleged schemes to sway city contracts, federal authorities said Tuesday.
FBI officials arrested and charged Nuru, who heads the department tasked with maintaining city infrastructure and calls himself “Mr. Clean” (yes, really) with one count of wire fraud revolving around the attempted bribery of an airport commissioner. Nuru was arrested twice in the past week and released Tuesday on a $2 million bond.
“San Francisco has been betrayed as alleged in the complaint,” said U.S. Attorney David Anderson at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. He added that “corruption is pouring into San Francisco from around the world.”
According to the complaint, Nuru tried to persuade a member he helped get on the San Francisco International Airport Commission to pick a Bovis-affiliated restaurant for an airport lease. Under Nuru’s instruction, they arranged a private dinner with the unnamed commissioner and brought an envelope of $5,000 in cash in April 2018. The two joked about their calls being monitored by the FBI while they were indeed being monitored by the FBI.
The alleged bribe was not consummated but doing so is still illegal. Nuru is charged with one count of wire fraud but the complaint, unsealed Tuesday, details five schemes that allege a pattern of influencing who gets lucrative city contracts. At least two of the schemes were intended to benefit Nick Bovis, owner of Lefty O’Doul’s and entrepreneur behind portable toilet venture Tiny Potties, who was also arrested and charged with wire fraud.
Another alleged scheme involves a billionaire developer in China behind a multimillion-dollar mixed-use project in San Francisco. The developer was said to gift Nuru with travel, lodging and luxurious gifts like a $2,000 bottle of wine that were concealed rather than disclosed via appropriate government filings. In exchange, Nuru was allegedly helping them get city approvals for the project, as corroborated by an encrypted WeChat conversation they had.
Both Nuru, 58, and Bovis, 57, are out on a $2 million bond and face up to 20 years for the charge. But Nuru, who was first arrested and released on Jan. 21, faces another maximum of five years in prison.
He was released after agreeing to cooperate with authorities and conceal the investigation but FBI agents caught wind of his communication people in City Hall and other witnesses. On Monday, Nuru repeatedly claimed this wasn’t the case but later admitted to lying after agents confronted him about discussions with a “senior city official,” the complaint says.
“He lied to the FBI,” Anderson said. “The public is entitled to honest work from public officials, free from manipulation for the official’s own personal benefit and profit.”
Mayor London Breed said Tuesday afternoon that Nuru is on leave and that interim leadership for the Department of Public Works would come soon. She also asked City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who alluded to Nuru’s alleged corruption in 2011, and the Controller’s office to thoroughly review any implicated contracts or other decisions.
“These allegations against Mohammed Nuru are extremely serious, and we will cooperate fully with any investigation,” Breed said in a statement. “Nothing matters more than the public trust, and each and every one of us who works for the City must hold ourselves to the highest standard. I accept nothing less for myself or for those who serve in this administration, and I will do everything I can to ensure that those who fail to uphold that standard are held accountable.”
Supervisors Matt Haney and Gordon Mar had strong words, with Haney calling it “a sad day” for the city and that Public Works, with its half a billion-dollar budget, lacked proper oversight. Both called for systemic reform.
“The breadth and depth of the fraud and abuse of power detailed in the indictment of Public Works Director Nuru is appalling, and that such behavior went unchecked until now is inexcusable,” Mar said. “San Francisco deserves justice.”