SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Calling it “in the spirit of transparency,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed took to social media Friday to disclose that she has been long-time friends with former Public Works Director Mohammad Nuru, who has been indicted on federal corruption charges, and even dated him at one point.
Breed, who accepted Nuru’s resignation as the city’s head of public works this week, said she was shocked when the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the arrest of Nuru and San Francisco restaurateur Nick Bovis in January on charges of public corruption.
“It was with a profound sense of shock, sadness, disappointment and anger that I learned of the federal charges against Mohammed announced two weeks ago,” she wrote on Medium. “From the perspective of serving as your Mayor, I was furious. The allegations against Mohammed and his co-defendants, if proved, represent a betrayal of the public trust that cuts to the core of our mission, and our duty, as public servants.”
She said wanted to also dispel some rumors that have been circulating.
“In the wake of a scandal at City Hall, I think San Franciscans are entitled to hear directly from their Mayor,” she wrote. “And also, quite frankly, to dispel some unfortunate rumors that have already begun to circulate.”
“Mohammed Nuru and I have been close personal friends for more than 20 years. We dated for a brief time, two decades ago, long before I ever ran for office. Nevertheless, he, and his now-adult daughters, have remained close friends for all those years.”
She said those years of friendship have left her “confused and heartbroken. If the charges are true, I can only wonder how could someone give up so much, for seemingly so little, endanger one’s hard-earned reputation and livelihood, and upend the lives of family, friends, colleagues and the citizens he served?
It was, and remains, shocking.”
Breed said she wanted to be clear — “I never asked Mohammed Nuru to do anything improper, and he never asked me to do anything improper. I was not aware of the schemes alleged by the FBI until shortly before they became public, and when I was informed, I immediately reported the information to our City Attorney.”
But a public mea cupla wasn’t enough for San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Mar.
“Mayor Breed’s admission of thousands of dollars in unreported gifts from a subordinate is likely illegal, certainly unethical, and part of a culture of casual corruption that is eroding the faith of the public,” Mar said in a statement. “It must end. Given the seriousness of this admission, the direct connection to the central figure in the FBI’s investigation into public corruption, I believe we need to put the people of San Francisco first.”
“I believe Mayor Breed should do the right thing and temporarily step back from her duties until a full, independent investigation can be completed.”
San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee said: “Mayor Breed made a mistake and has acknowledged it publicly.”
“If you are in a position of power, you should never put yourself in a situation where you are taking anything of value from your subordinates,” he said. “In the best interests of our city, I’m focused on the hard work we need to do to restore trust in our government.”
SF District Attorney Chesa Boudin issued a statement as well: “One of the most important responsibilities of the District Attorney is to objectively and impartially investigate criminal activity. Since taking over as District Attorney last month, I have learned about the ongoing federal investigation into public corruption in our city.”
“I have been asked about details that emerged today regarding possible ethical violations by Mayor Breed. My office will investigate any potential criminal liability, as we take public corruption very seriously. However, the Mayor, like everyone else, is presumed innocent.”
Ethics Expert Ann Skeet On The City Hall Scandal
Aside from the federal charges, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Controller Ben Rosenfield are conducting an independent investigation into the allegations of wrong-doing level against Nuru. Supervisors are also calling for an outside audit.
Herrera issued the subpoenas on Wednesday for records from eight companies and nonprofits that his office has reason to believe were involved in funneling donations to fund city programs and events, including funding Public Works holiday parties.
The subpoenas were served to PG&E, the construction firms Webcor, Pankow and Clark Construction and the recycling business Recology. There were also three nonprofits subpoenaed: Lefty O’Doul’s Foundation for Kids, the San Francisco Parks Alliance and the San Francisco Clean City Coalition. A press release noted that a total of 10 subpoenas were issued because some of the companies involved have more than one corporate entity.
“We’re following the facts, and we’re following the money,” Herrera was quoted as saying in the press release. “We are going to follow the evidence wherever it leads. We will get to the bottom of this. San Franciscans deserve no less.”
In her post, Breed also wanted to disclose a “gift” she received from Nuru.
“And in the spirit of my directive to city employees to be as transparent as possible, I want to note that in my annual “Statement of Economic Interests,” due this coming April 1, I will voluntarily disclose a “gift” of approximately $5,600 from Mohammed Nuru,” she wrote. “Last year, my personal automobile had broken down and Mohammed, acting as my friend, took it to a private auto mechanic. The estimated cost of repairs seemed more than the 18-year-old car was worth, but Mohammed had it fixed.”
“Later, when the car still wasn’t working, he helped secure a rental. The estimated value of those things is about $5,600. It had been my intention to sell the car (which is still not running consistently, even after the repairs) and reimburse Mohammed.”
Nuru, 57, and Bovis, 56, are longtime friends. The U.S. Attorney’s office alleges that the two participated in a scheme “to defraud the public of its right to the honest services of a public official through bribery or kickbacks” in violation of their duty.
Prosecutors say Nuru accepted lavish gifts from people with city business, including a $2,000 bottle of wine and travel from a wealthy Chinese developer seeking to build a large mixed-use building in San Francisco.
They also claim that Nuru took deeply discounted or free help fixing up his vacation home in rural Northern California.
Nuru goes by the Twitter handle “MrCleanSF” because he has overseen the city’s department of public works, which is responsible for cleaning streets, since 2012 and before that, was a deputy there. The department also handles the design and construction of city facilities and has a project portfolio of more than $5.6 billion.
The mayor and other city leaders depended on Nuru’s crews to clean up streets before public events, which he did without being asked. But critics say his department was heavy handed in sweeping up homeless camps. Also, sidewalks may have sparkled for photo ops, but they didn’t stay that way for long, they say.
Bovis, 56, runs a Christmas toy drive for needy children. He is the owner of several businesses, including Lefty O’ Doul’s, a popular sports bar forced to move from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf. The grand re-opening of Lefty’s in 2018 was attended by Breed, other elected leaders and Nuru.
The corruption allegations have upended San Francisco’s City Hall, with Breed and others professing outrage and ignorance that cozy, illegal back-scratching could happen in their city.