Top San Francisco city official charged in corruption case

January 28, 2020 - 5:03 pm

File - In this March 19, 2015, file photo, Mohammed Nuru, director of San Francisco Public Works, is interviewed at the Tenderloin Pit Stop mobile bathrooms in San Francisco. A top San Francisco official in charge of cleaning up the city's notoriously filthy streets and a champion of adding more portable toilets has been arrested, jail records show. Nuru was taken into custody Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, along with Nick Bovis, the owner of Lefty O'Doul's, a longtime sports bar popular with tourists and locals that closed two years ago. Records say only that the men were arrested for felony safekeeping, which typically indicates federal charges. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A top San Francisco official tasked with keeping the streets clean was charged Tuesday with public corruption in schemes that include offering a bribe for space at San Francisco International Airport, providing inside information to a friend seeking permits to build homeless shelters and portable toilets and accepting lavish gifts from a billionaire Chinese developer.

San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru made an initial appearance in court Tuesday along with Nick Bovis, the owner of Lefty O' Doul's, a popular sports bar in Fisherman's Wharf, and other city businesses. Each was released after posting $2 million bail.

Information on attorneys for the two men was not immediately available.

“The complaint alleges corruption pouring into San Francisco from around the world," said David L. Anderson, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California.

Nuru, 57, was initially arrested in late January and agreed to cooperate with officials, but violated his agreement not to discuss the case and was re-arrested, Anderson said.

As the top official since 2012 in charge of a city public works operating budget exceeding $300 million, Nuru is tasked with cleaning up San Francisco streets, which critics note remain cluttered with feces, trash and used needles amid a homelessness crisis. In August, he launched a “Poop Patrol" tasked with power-washing high-risk streets.

Nuru, who goes by “MrCleanSF" on Twitter, also oversees the design and construction of city facilities and 1,600 employees. Its capital project portfolio is more than $5.6 billion.

The allegations say 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.

In the airport scheme, the 75-page criminal complaint says Nuru and Bovis had a series of meetings over several months in which they discuss how to secure a lease space for Bovis' restaurant at the airport. Eventually, Bovis brought an envelope with $5,000 to a meeting with the commissioner, but she refused to take it.

At one meeting recorded by an FBI agent, Bovis said all the public officials in San Francisco “work, like, side deals."

“See, the problem, in San Francisco too, the politics are just crooked, you know what I mean?" he is quoted as saying in the criminal complaint.

Nuru faces 25 years in prison; Bovis faces 20 years.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Nuru was placed on administrative leave Monday evening. She has asked the city attorney and controller to review city contracts that may have been affected.

“I will do everything I can to ensure that those who fail to uphold (the highest) standard are held accountable," she said in a statement.

The complaint focuses on the failed airport scheme but also lays out other examples of the two collaborating to fool the public.

Anderson said Nuru also repeatedly met with a Chinese billionaire seeking to build a large mixed-use building in San Francisco, accepting gifts of lavish hotel stays, travel and a $2,000 bottle of wine. He did not report any of the gifts as public officials are required to do.

“Thank you very much for all your generosity while we were in China. We had a great vacation and my daughter had a wonderful time. I will do my very best to see that your project gets completed,” he said in a message to the developer in November 2018, according to the complaint.

City Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents an inner-city area at the heart of street waste complaints, said he has repeatedly pushed for accountability from a department that is run “like a one-person fiefdom."

“The result has been a recipe for corruption and a complete failure to keep our streets clean," he said in a statement.

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