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

The Department of Justice on Monday afternoon announced it had filed charges against three more individuals stemming from the January arrest and arraignment of former Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru and restaurateur Nick Bovis on allegations of fraud and public corruption. 

Among the three names announced today was that of Sandra Zuniga, the former director of the mayor’s “fix-it” team and a romantic partner of Nuru referred to as “GIRLFRIEND 1” in the initial charging document. 

Zuniga is accused of knowing of Nuru’s alleged graft and corruption for years, and participating in a longstanding money-laundering scheme.

That Nuru’s girlfriend was not aware of wrongdoing would be a stretch: In the initial charging document, a phone call with her is reprinted in which he describes a billionaire Chinese developer lavishing him with high-end liquor, wine, luxury accommodations and “some stone.” She also visited Santiago, Chile with Nuru and was put up in a luxury hotel on a trip purportedly “heavily subsidized by” by “CONTRACTOR 2” — notorious permit expediter Walter Wong. 

The most recent allegations go much further than passive participation, however. Zuniga is accused of depositing more than $135,000 over the course of not quite six years into her bank accounts, on top of her city salary. 

She is also accused of depositing more than $8,000 from Nuru associates and funneling money toward Nuru in the form of paying a portion of the monthly mortgage of his Colusa County vacation home (“The Ranch”) after habitually depositing a check into her own bank account. The Feds today outlined other instances in which Zuniga paid for work on that home after depositing checks from city-connected contractors into her personal bank accounts. 

U.S. Attorney David Anderson on Jan. 28 addresses the media 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.

Charges were also announced today against Balmore Hernandez, a longtime Public Works employee who later went on to found AzulWorks, Inc. — a firm that received numerous lucrative city contracts on which it was apparently not technically qualified to bid. 

Hernandez was referred to as “CONTRACTOR 1” in the initial charging documents. At issue were allegations that he provided free or discounted labor at “The Ranch” in return for city work being funneled his way. 

Specifics released today include allegations that Hernandez provided in excess of a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of labor and materials toward building Nuru’s vacation home in remote Northern California (including, notably, a tractor). He is also accused of a long-running bribery scheme to win Nuru’s approval to operate an asphalt plant on Port of San Francisco land. 

Of note, the John Deere tractor Hernandez purportedly bribed Nuru with is priced at more than $40,000 in the complaint against the contractor.

In the early years of AzulWorks, Hernandez headquartered his company in a building owned by Walter Wong. Wong has been hit with a bevy of subpoenas by the City Attorney in that office’s concurrent investigation into Nuru. 

Wong allegedly accompanied Nuru to China for that meeting with billionaire developer Zhang Li in which they were showered with gifts. In return, Nuru purportedly attempted to move along Zhang’s stalled development project at 555 Fulton; FBI agents on Feb. 5 visited the Department of Building Inspection to view documents for that project.

Oddly, those documents had earlier disappeared off the Building Department’s computer system, before reappearing.

The City Attorney’s investigation also unearthed a series of e-mails between Wong, Nuru, and former Department of Building Inspection boss Tom Hui revealing nepotism and the wholesale outsourcing of city policy to a permit expediter. Hui resigned after Mayor London Breed suspended him in March. Sources within the Building Department describe Hui to Mission Local as having “literally stood over people’s shoulders” to force out approvals on the 555 Fulton Street project “sooner than it should’ve been done.”

From page 55 of the federal complaint vs. Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru

Finally, charges were on Monday announced against Florence Kong, who owns a construction company and construction-debris recycling company with city contracts. 

She is accused of lying to FBI investigators that Nuru had steered business her way, in spite of recorded phone calls proving otherwise. She is also alleged to have gifted him cash, costly meals, a gate for “The Ranch” and a Rolex watch worth more than $40,000. 

Nuru and Bovis are charged with fraud and face potential 20-year prison sentences. Nuru faces an additional five years due to charges of lying to the FBI. Bovis last month pleaded guilty and pledged to cooperate with investigators. 

Zuniga is charged with one count of conspiracy to launder money; if convicted, she faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison, a fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transactions, or both.  Hernandez is charged with bribery; if convicted, the maximum statutory penalty is 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Kong is charged with making false statements; if convicted, the maximum statutory penalty is five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.  

“The federal investigation into City Hall corruption has not been sidetracked by COVID-19 or other recent traumatic events,” said San Francisco-based U.S. Attorney Dave Anderson. “Today’s criminal complaints will not be the last.”

In January, Anderson misspoke at a press conference, urging those who could see themselves behind anonymized titles in the charging documents such as “DEVELOPER 1” and “OFFICIAL 1” to “walk, don’t run” to the FBI to turn themselves in. 

Today he reiterated — and corrected — that statement. 

“To everyone with a piece of this corruption, again I urge you to help make things right for San Francisco. Run, don’t walk to the FBI, before it is too late for you to cooperate.” 

The case vs. Zuniga is available here.

The case vs. Hernandez is available here.

The case vs. Kong is available here.

Contractor and permit expediter Walter Wong, right, pictured here in 2018 with ex-Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru. Photo by Susana Bates for Drew Alitzer Photography.

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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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14 Comments

  1. >>>> Bovis last month pleaded guilty and pledged to cooperate with investigators.

    James Bovis’ failson might just end up doing great things in this town afterall.

    Bring them all down, failson!

  2. Can you supply a link to these indictments? They must have some jewels of bugged comments to read!

    1. Can’t expect journalism from a blog. The Examiner, professional journalism, embedded the complaint into a article.

      1. Sir or madam —

        The Ex, and reporter Josh Sabatini, are great. But they also only put one of the three case files online. We have now put all three.

        Sorry it’s inconvenient to you, champ, but I do have to watch the kids in the evening.

        You keep impugning this website and my professionalism. But you keep reading, too.

        Best,

        JE

        1. Day late and dollar short for reporting. But Johnny on the spot to claim sympathy. As if Examiner journalists don’t have personal responsibilities. But that’s one difference between a journalist and a blogger, professionalism. For entertainment, I read the comics and other fictionalized blog accounts of actual events. This blog is merely one of them.

          1. Sir —

            You seem to know a lot about journalism. I’m sure you’ve set foot in many newsrooms and understand the profession deeply.

            You seem to be especially knowledgeable about the dynamics of the local journalistic landscape. I mean — you *really* know your stuff.

            Best,

            JE

    2. Ge —

      The feds made it hard for us (and, sorry, I had to watch the kids last night) by filing this as three different cases — vs. Zuniga, Hernandez, and Kong. We have now linked to all three complaints.

      JE

  3. I always wondered how when I volunteered those Saturdays with DPW, how the heck did they pay for those t shirts, hats and lunches? One person told me to look at the gate IFO Nuru’s home, it looked to be the same as those in the median of Van Ness IFO City Hall until MTA started tearing up Van Ness to “speed up” the buses. Don’t you know when you “speed up” things, you get more accidents? But then again, cool, you land a hospital right smack in the middle of it.

  4. This episode has sickened me and helps explain why DPW could never get anything done in the Mission

  5. Turn a phrase, Mr Clean was dirty, but Ms. Fix-It lives up to her name.

    Seriously though, between the pandemic and the police, I don’t see the result of these prosecutions bringing much change

  6. Nice reporting. Wow, wire taps back to 2015 at least! There are four staffers in my City office that have papered over the windows to their offices even when they are on site. The hubris has turned to fear yet they are still not putting in an honest days work.

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