SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The head of San Francisco’s Department of Public Works has been arrested on charges of public corruption, federal authorities said Tuesday.
Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, 58, was arrested Monday by FBI agents and accused of several corruption schemes involving city contracts. Businessman and restaurateur Nick Bovis, 57, owner of the famed Lefty O’Doul’s bar and restaurant, was also arrested as part of the probe.
Nuru is also the Chair of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority Board of Directors, which administers the Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco.
Dave Anderson, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, announced the charges at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
“The complaint alleges corruption pouring into San Francisco from around the world,” said Anderson. “The complaint alleges corruption, bribery, side deals by one of San Francisco’s highest-ranking public employees.”
The complaint alleged Nuru was involved in five corruption schemes in 2018-2019. One alleged scheme involved lease of restaurant space at San Francisco International Airport, normally awarded by five-person airport commission. The complaint alleges Nuru and Bovis schemed to bribe an airport commissioner with cash and travel, bribes that ultimately were not paid.
A second scheme involved an unidentified Chinese billionaire developer who allegedly provided Nuru with travel, lodging, high-end liquor and other gifts in order to manipulate the building permit and inspection process for the developer.
The third scheme involved commercial lease rights at the Transbay Transit Center. The complaint alleges Nuru intervened in the process to secure a desirable lease in the transit center for Bovis in exchange for benefits provided by Bovis.
A fourth involved the public process for building new public restrooms and homeless shelters. The complaint alleges Nuru provided inside information to Bovis and manipulated contract specifications to get Bovis an unfair advantage in bidding to build the structures.
Lastly, the complaint alleges contractors performing work for the city of San Francisco also worked to build Nuru’s vacation home in Stonyford, Colusa County, providing him free and discounted labor, materials and a John Deere tractor.
Nuru and Bovis face a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted of the charges. Nuru also faces an additional five years for giving false statements to federal investigators. Anderson said Nuru was initially arrested on January 21st and at the time expressed his desire to cooperate with the investigation, but that Nuru reneged on his vow and lied to investigators.
“He was released to FBI custody to facilitate this cooperation,” said Anderson. “He was admonished by the court and the FBI not to tamper or obstruct the investigation, not to disclose the investigation, not to disclose his cooperation with the investigation. Nuru promised to obey those admonishments. Nuru violated those admonishments.”
Mayor London Breed released a statement saying Nuru had been placed on leave Monday and that an interim leadership strategy for the DPW would soon be announced.
Breed also said other city contracts would be reviewed in light of the charges.
“I’m asking the City Attorney and the Controller to conduct a thorough review of any implicated City contracts or other decisions and to investigate any suspected violations of the law or the stringent guidelines and rules that ensure the integrity of our contracting process,” said Breed. “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.”
Supervisor Matt Haney, a frequent critic of the DPW, said in a statement that the lack of accountability by the department “has been a recipe for corruption and a complete failure to keep our streets clean.”
“San Francisco has become so dirty that we’re now as famous for human waste on our streets as we are for the Golden Gate Bridge,” said Haney. “It’s sad, unhealthy, clearly unacceptable, and the people elected to run our city should be embarrassed that it’s been allowed to continue this way for so long.”
Both Nuru and Bovis have been released on a $2 million bond each and both are expected back in court on Feb. 6.
In a statement, DPW said it would begin working with Acting Director Alaric Degrafinried to continue the department’s work, as Nuru has been placed on administrative leave.