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Politics & Policy

Mohammed Nuru, key figure in SF corruption scandal, formally pleads guilty

Mohammed Nuru, the former Public Works head at the center of San Francisco’s City Hall corruption scandal, formally pleaded guilty to fraud Thursday in a deal with federal prosecutors that could land him in prison for years.

Nuru, 59, pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud during a virtual hearing before U.S. District Judge William Orrick.

In a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office last month, Nuru admitted to taking a wide range of bribes and kickbacks from city contractors in exchange for wielding his influence at City Hall. On Thursday, he again acknowledged that the many allegations were true when asked by Orrick.

Nuru was accused of giving trash-hauling giant Recology favorable treatment in exchange for various payments, including $750,000 in donations the firm made to a nonprofit account that Nuru used to pay for staff merchandise and events. Recology also hired his son and contributed $60,000 to a baseball charity for children that used the money to fund Public Works holiday parties for Nuru.

As director of Public Works, Nuru played a key role approving requests to raise the rates Recology charged San Franciscans for garbage collection.

Nuru also admitted to receiving numerous international trips and $260,000 in labor and materials for work on two of his personal residences from prominent permit expediter Walter Wong. In exchange, Nuru gave Wong confidential city information to help him win government contracts.

Nuru’s other schemes implicated: local restaurateur Nick Bovis, who ran the Lefty O’Doul’s Foundation for Kids and accepted the donations from Recology; city contractor Florence Kong, who bribed Nuru with a $36,550 Rolex watch in exchange for city business; and his former girlfriend, Sandra Zuniga, who worked in the Mayor’s Office and helped Nuru launder money.

Nuru admitted to being involved in additional schemes. While many of his alleged conspirators have been named and pleaded guilty to charges, at least two have not.

In his plea agreement, prosecutors revealed that Nuru accepted $20,000 in cash payments from an unnamed former government employee in exchange for helping the person get a city job. He also received cash bribes from an unnamed yet prominent local developer in exchange for helping the developer gain needed approvals from Public Works.

While prosecutors agreed not to seek more than nine years in custody for Nuru, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for honest services wire fraud. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has agreed to dismiss other charges against Nuru for conspiracy to commit money laundering and making false statements to the FBI.

Nuru is expected to return to court for sentencing May 26.