Mohammed Nuru
former Director of Public Works Mohammed Nuru. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

A report from NBC Bay Area this morning identified the city contractor who allegedly bribed Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru with a tractor and did cheap or free work on his country home as Balmore Hernandez, a former longtime Public Works employee. 

In an interesting wrinkle, Hernandez, the purported CONTRACTOR 1 in the 75-page federal complaint, for years headquartered his business in a building owned by the alleged CONTRACTOR 2: Walter Wong.

Wong, a deeply connected and influential city permit expediter, handled the permitting for 555 Fulton — this is the project owned by Z&L Properties; its billionaire co-owner Zhang Li purportedly lavished “some stone” and expensive liquor and accomodations on Nuru during a Chinese trip, according to the FBI.

In return, Nuru allegedly got involved with helping along the project. As Mission Local wrote on Jan. 29, a cursory search of city websites reveals that there are no records for some of the work Nuru described being done on a federal wiretap — and, notably, other Department of Building Inspection analysis appears to have been done “over the counter” when far more extensive time and scrutiny should have been required. 

After Hernandez left Public Works and formed Azul Works, his company was for a time housed at 205 13th Street — which is a building owned by Walter Wong, and the headquarters for multiple businesses he owns.

Nuru was arrested Jan. 21 by the FBI in a long-running corruption probe, but released after he pledged to work with the investigators and keep the probe’s existence secret. He purportedly broke this promise and was rearrested on Jan. 27 and charged with fraud and lying to the FBI. 

Within the lengthy complaint outlining charges against Nuru and restaurateur Nick Bovis, Hernandez is purportedly “CONTRACTOR 1,” a man with millions in Public Works contracts who sent workers to Nuru’s Colusa County weekend home and, allegedly, gifted him a John Deere tractor. 

Within wiretaps, the two were allegedly caught discussing how teams of workers would be traveling the three-and-a-half hours to Nuru’s dacha, and if Nuru could clear up problems with a property CONTRACTOR 1 was working on. Per the transcript, Nuru said an underling “is working on that for me to figure out how we can make it all clean and legit and yeah, so there is no long-term problem.” CONTRACTOR 1 replied “Perfect, perfect, perfect, okay Mo. Thank you man.” 

Wong’s office at 205 13th St. was allegedly raided by federal agents on Jan. 28. Our calls to his phone number one day later were answered on the seventh or eighth ring by a woman who said she had “nothing to say” about Wong’s purported appearance in the complaint  — or the raid. 

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Managing Editor/Columnist. 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 editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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1 Comment

  1. Azul Works is a subcontractor for MEDA’s 1990 Folsom Development, and was sued for repeatedly punching holes in a neighboring building during demolition and site prep, Case # CGC19576871, which has apparently since settled. It seems they weren’t qualified to work on that job, yet they got the contract anyways. I wonder why that was?

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