“See, the problem in San Francisco too, the politics are just crooked, you know what I mean? And they can go sideways. They even undermine the people in charge.” —Nick Bovis, allegedly, on a wire. 

A few years ago, your humble narrator and Rose Pak came across a pile of detritus dumped on a Chinatown street corner. This would not do. She whipped out her cell phone, dialed Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, and the mess was cleaned in short order. 

That’s what Mohammed Nuru did — along with, per a 75-page federal complaint unsealed yesterday, many, many other less savory things: In summation, rampant public corruption.  

Yesterday things went sideways — and undermined the people in charge. It was revealed that there was gambling going on in the casino — and nobody but nobody should’ve been shocked, shocked. When a 75-page federal complaint and joint U.S. Attorney-FBI press conference prompts newspapers to reprint Nuru’s lengthy C.V. of ethical breaches, readers and journalists alike can question how the hell he got this job. 

But that’s missing the point. That C.V. got him this job. And his ability to field phone calls from the city’s power players and solve their problems expediently kept it for him. 

This is the third time we’re reporting this, but it seems warranted: Multiple sources this month confirmed to Mission Local that Nuru’s Public Works cleaning crews showed up ahead of time to spots on the mayor’s daily itinerary, and power-washed them before she arrived.  

Nuru got his job because he was a man who would do what he was asked to do. And he kept his job because he didn’t need to be asked to do things like this. 

Several outrage cycles ago, residents of the San Francisco side street Clinton Park placed boulders on the sidewalk — sans any permitting or municipal permission — to deter homeless campers or alleged dope-dealers. Incensed homeless advocates repeatedly rolled the boulders into the gutter. And Nuru’s Public Works crews saw fit to spend time and money repeatedly hoisting the outlaw emplacements back onto the curb. The real problem, in Nuru’s own words, was that “larger boulders” were required.

Mohammed Nuru was the larger boulder. He was hard and blunt and able to “solve” problems in a quick and unsophisticated manner. Or not solve them. Depends who called.  

Those boulders served as a clumsy metaphor for life writ large in this city. And, now, so does Nuru. 

U.S. Attorney David Anderson addresses the media on Tuesday regarding charges filed against Mohammed Nuru and Nick Bovis. He is flanked by U.S. Attorneys to his right, and FBI agents to his left. To Anderson’s immediate left is FBI Special Agent In Charge Jack Bennett.

The FBI and the US Attorney’s office spent an awful lot of time and money busting up a conspiracy to bribe an airport commissioner $5,000 to open up a chicken shack at SFO. 

A conspiracy that did not, it turns out, come to fruition

San Francisco considers itself a sophisticated city, but this is what our highly compensated public officials get caught doing on federal wiretaps. 

Per the complaint, Nuru was also bribed with a tractor.  

Well, that’s got to rankle. As does handing the FOX News Needles-and-Feces Filth Porn contingent so much material to work with. 

And there is a lot of material in this federal complaint, even if the fraud charges that could put away Nuru and restaurateur Nick Bovis for 20 years are jarringly small-time: A chicken shack at the airport; bid-rigging an outhouse contract; having city-employed contractors working on your dacha (and gifting you a John Deere tractor). 

But it’s not the plot. It’s the scenery. An atmosphere of casual corruption is revealed here, and as US Attorney David Anderson noted yesterday, the unnamed players — CONTRACTOR 1, DEVELOPER 1, even GIRLFRIEND 1 — will recognize themselves. 

Anderson urged them to run to the FBI offices and disclose what they know. Or we’ll do it the other way.” (Actually, Anderson said “walk, don’t run,” which may have been a misstatement or may have been an acknowledgement that it was rainy and slippery on Tuesday. Whatever). 

Nuru, it seems, is up to his neck in a pile of the stuff that so delights FOX News. As revealed yesterday, he was first arrested on Jan. 21 — and promised to cooperate with the broad, long-running investigation and keep its existence secret. 

But this did not happen. Per the feds, Nuru did the opposite and began informing people about the baited trap. The feds are angry, and one of the implicit rationales for yesterday’s press conference was to impart that message to CONTRACTOR 1 and DEVELOPER 1 and all the rest. 

The feds hoped to use Nuru as a Trojan Horse to ensnare more and bigger players in one neat move. But it seems he ruined this plan, and now they have to make case after case. Not only is he facing 20 years for alleged fraud, but five more for purportedly lying to the FBI about spilling the beans — a preposterous thing to do, considering Nuru was so wired up the FBI probably knew how often he went to the john. 

Nuru is a good soldier. But 25 years is a lot of leverage. It will be interesting to see how hard the feds want to pull this thread. Because if they pull hard enough, they’ll unravel the whole sweater. 

Some of you may recall those old Dianetics commercials, in which all of life’s problems were rattled off along with corresponding page numbers in which they were addressed (What causes negative thinking? Page 72). 

The complaint against Nuru and Bovis is a bit like that. Who’s the Chinese billionaire who wined and dined Nuru and purportedly received behind-the-scenes help on a project in San Francisco? Page 55. 

So, let’s take a look at Page 55, which is pasted above. What project might that be? And what did Nuru do to help the man who, per a wiretap of his call to “GIRLFRIEND 1” gifted him “some stone” (uncut stones? Perhaps the feds know) and thousands of dollars worth of booze. 

A bit, it seems. Your humble narrator has learned from numerous sources that the project in question is at 555 Fulton St. That project is being undertaken by the Chinese-owned development outfit  Z&L Properties. Searching on city websites, it seems that there are no records for some of the work being described in the federal wiretap — and, importantly, that other work appears to have been done “over the counter” when far more extensive time and observation should have been required. 

We are informed by numerous sources that the permitting for this project was handled by expediter Walter Wong. Connecting the dots, that would make Wong “CONTRACTOR 2.” 

A call to Wong’s office rang about seven or eight times this morning before a woman picked up the phone. She said she had “nothing to say” about Wong’s alleged appearance in the complaint. 

She also refused to confirm whether the FBI raided Wong’s office yesterday — as multiple sources have told us they did. 

There is something akin to this to be discovered on nearly every page of the complaint. 

If and when Nuru decides to belatedly assist the authorities — or if those named within run, walk, or otherwise perambulate to the FBI offices — the guessing games will cease. 

San Francisco Public Works clears a homeless encampment on 14th and Mission Streets, March 2017. Photo by Lola M. Chavez.

Over the past few decades, Rose Pak, Willie Brown, and others have successfully seeded the government with legions of people, targeting the departments where things can be either done or undone. This has proven a highly effective way for a coterie of people to remain influential. 

Mayor London Breed — who, herself, comes from this political world — has been handed a golden opportunity to undo the status quo in this city. If that’s what she wants to do. Rather, minimizing change and containing damage may be the preferred outcome here.  

Nuru has been placed on leave. Under Breed, former Health Department boss Barbara Garcia has resigned while under investigation for purportedly steering contracts to her wife, and erstwhile Muni head Ed Reiskin has stepped down after a litany of missteps including knowingly kneecapping the entire transit system and failing to tell the mayor’s office about it. Joanne Hayes-White also retired, after a lengthy tenure atop the fire department — and Public Defender Jeff Adachi died. Otherwise, however, the city’s cards have not been shuffled. 

The powers-that-be are the powers-that-were. 

But the sheer mass of information disgorged by the feds yesterday indicates that there’s much more here — and ferreting out clandestine tractor gifts and chicken shack bribes isn’t the ultimate goal. Nailing the director of Public Works doesn’t appear to be the ultimate goal, either.  

Nuru is, among other things, the living embodiment of business as usual in this town of ours. That may change, but that may not. 

Because, in truth, things didn’t go sideways yesterday. They went sideways long ago. And everybody knew — everybody. And they did nothing.  

They undermined each and every one of us.  

Joe Eskenazi

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. “Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior...

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36 Comments

  1. Forget it Joe, it’s San Francisco-town.

    Look, we’re a city that can spend $12 Billion a year and have little to show for it. It’s not that there is some quid-pro-quid corruption out there. It’s that the whole city family bumbles along with so little accountability from anyone that it is hard to know where to start.

    We can hope the Feds unravel the whole mess, but be prepared for this to fizzle out early like the other recent corruption investigations did. (Remember those supposed untraceable gift cards?)

  2. Bombshell about Walter Wong. In real estate circles this guy is known as the crooked expeditor.

    Of all the media outlets doing a story on this Mission Local is doing the most in depth analysis. Great job thank you!!

  3. Excellent Story! It’s actually happening !! We know where this is going to lead us to truth and end a lot of people’s careers.

  4. Money seems to be the only game city authorities understand. The voters should consider the corruption and waste exposed here and stop feeding the beast by voting against the next round of taxes fines and fees. When a 12 billion dollar budget fails to deliver as promised the solution is not more money.

  5. Four years ago, Vallie Brown, then-aide to then-Supervisor Breed, told me that 555 Fulton was one of Breed’s proudest accomplishments. Some of her pride must have been that Hayes Valley only has several “state of mind” luxury housing developments. This “much-needed” high-end luxury lifestyle development, of course, is close to four years behind schedule. How did an expediter slow things down so much?

    The current corruption news shines a whole new light on just how proud of that project Breed should be.

    I won’t even go into the issue of Dean Preston’s community forum signs in the Inner Sunset that were removed by a DPW employee. …. Oh, hell, I guess I will. … Said employee sat through the entire 2 hour or so meeting before giving Preston the citation for illegal posting – even though they weren’t illegal postings. So that employee got several hours of pay – one could legitimately assume it was overtime pay – because (I’m guessing here) Preston was running for D5 supervisor against London Breed at the time. Really, I’m just guessing that that’s what happened. Never mind the someone who tried to do Sunshine request to see what communications occurred regarding this got a warned not to do so.

    1. Port ? Would they have anything to do with closing San Francisco’s last link to a maritime history ? Namely Pier 70 BAE Shipyard ? Could be some $$ incentive to have done so..

    2. Also would like to clarify relationship between Recology and Nuru/DPW. Keep up the good work Joe.

      1. The PUC ….. you mean the dynamic duals SFPUC GM Harlan Kelly and the City Adminstrator Naomi Kelly ….
        Well they held and celebrated a retirement party for Zula Jones in their house…. Zula is now serving 9 years in Prison for fixing City contract awards and crimes she committed …. the Kelly’s defense on record …..we did not know …Sure

        1. Sir —

          Zula Jones was at the John’s Grill election luncheon. Please do better.

          JE

          1. for the criminal Zula and 20 years of fixing city contracts, read the FBI wire tap transcript ” We do it better than NY”
            https://www.sfexaminer.com/the-city/years-after-fbi-probe-sf-pay-to-play-case-ends-in-plea-deals/
            the Kellys are on record in the papers hosting her retirement party in their house right before being charged
            When was the John Grill Election Luncheon ???? Did you attend?
            Whom do you think Nuru would call at the SFPUC to take care of Hui son and the GF?, the PUC security guard or the Kelly
            What about Emilio Cruz and his interference in a $1B PUC contract, also in the papers
            What about Tommy building a crash house for himself (when intoxicated) at the south plant?
            You have no idea and clearly new to the game that started 20 years ago with Villi Brown sick clan

          2. Hey Joe — 

            Not sure what you’re talking about because the decades-ago seeding of the government with underling by Brown, Pak et al. was overtly mentioned in the story.

            Yes, I was at the John’s Grill event and, yes, I saw Zula Jones with my own eyes. She’s not incarcerated. You’re factually wrong.

            With all due respect, I think I am not so new to the game and do have an inkling of what’s going on. I also have the ability to write about it in a grammatical and comprehensible manner that doesn’t read like a semi-coherent rant.

            Best,

            JE

  6. Nuru has been visibly corrupt since he used San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (a non profit) to campaign for the Brown machine — and that’s before the DPW. And anyone who wanted to know, knew.

  7. Other areas for the FBI to look:
    – The planning department and planning commission for the kickbacks that get traded there in exchange for variances and other exceptions to “move through“ the planning approval process
    – The department of homelessness for the kickbacks that get traded for grants to non-performing non profits working on “solving” homelessness
    – The department of education for misuse of funds meant to “close the achievement gap”, landing instead on friends’ companies’ paychecks

    I’ve come to hate our city government so much. Living in SF and paying property tax is a total racket.

  8. Why was Uber and Lyft allowed to operate initially (before PUC jurisdiction was established) violating all
    Kinds of City ordinances?

  9. Joe,

    I think the biggest thing here is that we
    now have a U.S. Attorney in Northern
    California who’s appointed by Trump.

    That’s a spot Feinstein used to fill
    by dint of seniority and she’s been Nuru’s
    mentor from the get go.

    Go Niners!

    h.

  10. Joe,

    Another recent one you omitted is Mivic Hirose, former Laguna Honda CEO who resigned after the abuse scandal and immediately hired by SF DPH.

    Corruption occurs among all social/economic classes of public authorities. But it feels to me that one article of faith among SF progressives is a peculiar tolerance of corruption by authorities with blue collar backgrounds and identity, regardless of their wealth. Their corruption seems to be to accepted as a form of economic social justice or equal opportunity. Of course, the result of that tolerance is people pursuing opportunities for corruption hone their blue collar bona fides and seek City jobs, ensuring endemic corruption among city officials.

    To a degree it’s like seeing pimps and drug dealers as admirable(even though not role models) because they’ve demonstrated ability to beat “The Man” at his own game. The result is the endemic presence of pimps and drug dealers.

    1. Sir or madam — 

      Ms. Hirose is not a department head. And she continues to work for DPH as a nurse, earning north of $200K.

      Best,

      JE

      1. According to the Examiner, her position is clinical nurse specialist in the Information Technology division. That sounds administrative, not a clinical nurse like at SFGH. It’s unclear if that was a previous vacancy or created as part of a deal for her keeping silent and not inplicating other senior City Fanily members.

  11. cyril yu was the structural plan checker for the 555 fulton street permit. He plan check it in 1 minute and signed off

  12. There’s doing your job poorly, and there’s doing your job corruptly- on this topic we need to distinguish between the two, because the latter is plain wrong and requires legal adjudication. Mohammed Nuru will have his day in court. What we learn from this legal process and the separate City Attorney investigation will tell the tale. The true tragedy here is that the overwhelming majority of City workers who are dedicated to public service are tarnished by the misdeeds of those at the highest levels. The sooner we can learn what we need to know and take corrective actions to inhibit future misbehavior, the better for us all.

  13. An excellent article, well-crafted journalism and another addition to the library of work Mr. Eskenazi has created over the years exposing the machinations of our fine City’s “governance”.

    I’m particularly impressed by honor code displayed by Mr. Nuru.
    This is the man you want as a Capo in your organization.

    With Feds putting the pinch on him he did not flinch (see Sammy the Bull).
    He did the right thing, fell on his sword and reported there was a sting operation targeting the Underbosses.
    A good man, wetting his beak with only minor pilferages – nothing too greedy or big time to attract major attention to the higher ups in The Family.

    Sure, he’s been charged for some alleged minor missteps but that comes with beak wetting in general.

    The most important thing is loyalty and omerta.

    Mr. Nuru has strenuously decried these false charges.
    But should the screw turn tighter, plea deals will be arranged, pensions will be honored and familial health care plans will remain intact.
    The Family will insure an example is set that those who have maintained an exemplary level of service and loyalty over a long period of time will get rewarded.
    One way or another.

  14. I am surprised that the FBI did not investigate the “charity” golf tournaments run by a few managers of the SFPUC Wastewater Enterprise. I think Mohammed Nuru would be jealous of the take from these tournaments. Someone should ask why there were so many uncashed checks from City employees found in the Security Manager’s office that were written to pay for the tournament. I wonder how much alcohol, meals and days of golf were paid for out of the money paid by consultants and suppliers for sponsoring holes and tees? How much money was actually given to charity? Who handled the accounting? Would the consultants and suppliers have sponsored the tournament if it weren’t run by top managers that made procurement decisions on a routine basis? I think it would be a story worth pursuing.

    1. #TeamSFPUC #picnicsmatter

      And FBI Investigation not over. Complaint clear!y says it’s ongoing and there are other “public corruption probes.” Best to email them directly with any info you may have.

      (So they found checks on the 10th floor?!)

    2. Spil… What was the take?? And the fbi never got wind of this, that’s weird. Who were the sponsors…And how many managers were involved & the top brass at the pic didn’t know???

        1. That is WILD…..doesn’t the City have a hr office? Did anyone tell them or is it typical do nothing bs from them like so many other hr offices? Someone should write about thos….

  15. The FBI is more likely to read an email w any info you may have than this comment section, though this still super interesting. Any pics? So they found checks on the 10th floor huh?! What you describe would have alluded official accounting. The account may as well have been a parakeet.

    #TeamSFPUC #picnicsmatter

      1. This is the same Security Manager that allegedly gave out City ID’s to non-City people so they could get a discount at City-owned golf courses.

  16. Shame that we are posted in the year 2020 and San Francisco is still unable to shed its roots as a politically dysfunctional boom town of the Old West. Some of us want to see Star Fleet Academy set up shop here, seems like like that’s becoming more of a pipe dream with each passing day.

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