A 2016 trash fire provides a fitting analogy for Recology's present-day situation. Photo by George Lipp

Multiple sources have informed Mission Local that the “very senior San Francisco city official” comped along with ex-Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru for two New York City hotel rooms, each costing $865 each for two nights, was former City Administrator Naomi Kelly. 

That December, 2017, payment was made by embattled waste-hauling giant Recology, and neither public official reimbursed nor offered to reimburse it, according to a federal filing made today announcing a $36 million “deferred prosecution agreement” with Recology and its subsidiary companies. The company has, in essence, been granted amnesty by the feds, so long as it meets the terms of the agreement. 

Those terms require Recology and its subsidiaries to admit to participating in bribery schemes and pledge to cooperate in ongoing investigations, on top of the payment. The $36 million total includes $29 million to the United States Treasury and $7 million to the city; the city portion had already been pledged as part of an earlier settlement regarding Recology’s yearslong overcharging of San Francisco customers.

Today’s filing recapitulates many of the revelations of the past year and a half following the January, 2020, arrest of Nuru on fraud and bribery charges

Former city administrator Naomi Kelly.

It reiterates the alleged arrangement between Recology executives and Nuru to ply the Public Works director with gifts and donations to his preferred organizations. Nuru purportedly pushed for more generous rates to be paid by the city to Recology. In return, Recology directed funds to nonprofit accounts under Nuru’s control; he purportedly used the funds to underwrite lavish holiday parties

Recology also employed Nuru’s son as part of an alleged quid-pro-quo for arranging those generous rates; the son was later terminated and found employment at a Recology-funded nonprofit. The feds, in a twist of the knife, published his scathing job reviews

Finally, today’s documents note Nuru and “another high-ranking city official” being comped by Recology in December, 2017, for a pair of New York City hotel rooms that cost $865.34 each for two nights. 

This official, also described as “very senior” in the documents is not named, but multiple sources have confirmed it to be Naomi Kelly. Calls to her have not been returned. 

Kelly resigned her post in January, 2021. Her husband, former Public Utilities Commission general manager Harlan Kelly, resigned from that position in November, 2020 after being hit with federal bribery charges

Naomi Kelly is not presently facing charges, but she did participate in a 2016 family trip to Hong Kong and China, purportedly funded by longtime city permit expediter and politico Walter Wong; this voyage was recounted in detail in the 2020 charging documents. Wong was seeking a city contract with the PUC while the Kellys were on vacation he allegedly underwrote. 

In June, 2020, Naomi Kelly told federal investigators that she “paid Wong a lot of money for the trip” and “brought lots of cash on the trip to give to Rose Pak.” The feds, however, found only minimal withdrawals from the Kelly family’s bank accounts in the weeks prior to the trip, as well as minimal expenditures during the trip.

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.

The 2017 hotel incident occurred during a trip to Roosevelt Island to view a trash collection system. Today’s federal document notes that Recology officials felt the San Francisco politicos’ hotel was “too rundown and that it would be embarrassing for Nuru and ‘San Francisco Public Official A’ to stay there.” 

Two rooms at another hotel were subsequently procured via a SF Recology Group purchase card; these are described in the documents as costing $865.34 each for two nights. 

“Neither Nuru nor San Francisco Public Official A reimbursed or offered to reimburse SF Recology Group for the cost of their hotel rooms,” states today’s document. 

Following today’s announcement, Recology sent out a press release expressing humility. 

“While we are pleased to resolve this matter, we must take this moment to recognize that this type of conduct, at any level in our company, was wrong and unacceptable,” wrote recently installed CEO Sal Coniglio. “We must ensure that something like this never happens again. As a 100-percent employee-owned company, nothing matters more to us than our relationships with our customers, and we know that even beyond this resolution, we have work to do to regain their trust.” 

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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4 Comments

  1. Is this typical graft for the City or above average graft?

    Which of these grifters is most likely to have their “tale of San Francisco Murder” screenplay “based on a true story” optioned?

  2. Recology Contrite only because they were caught.
    This couple Harlan & Naomi are a piece of work.Supping on the City coffers but standard NO for this administration. The question will anything come of it or swept aways again.

  3. I can’t help but think they’re going this hard against Recology for being a BIPOC owned company, who employees Black SF natives. I read that they reported the overcharging issue and nothing was done.

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