A $1,200 steak dinner and 14 breakfasts were some of the more modest ways a local garbage executive allegedly tried to curry favor with the San Francisco city official who oversaw his business.
John Porter, a former vice president for Recology, allegedly signed off on $55,000 in company checks for ex-Public Works head Mohammed Nuru to throw lavish parties for his friends, political supporters and employees.
Porter says none of it amounted to the fraud or bribery alleged by prosecutors.
But that didn’t convince a judge last week to dismiss a six-count indictment against him, which means his case is headed to trial in mid-April.
Porter was the highest-ranking of two Recology executives charged in the pay-to-play scandal that began unfolding around Nuru in 2020. He and Paul Giusti were accused of arranging the payments to the Lefty O’Doul’s Foundation for Kids to help Nuru throw annual holiday parties.
They were also charged in connection with hundreds of thousands in payments Recology allegedly funneled into a “slush fund” controlled by Nuru at a nonprofit.
Prosecutors added four charges against Porter last fall, but their latest filing dropped the allegations around the slush fund.
Giusti pleaded guilty in late 2021 to conspiring to bribe Nuru and agreed to cooperate with investigators.
Defense attorneys said in filings that Porter had “nothing to do” with labeling the $55,000 in Recology checks as “holiday donations” for the charity, which was set up to give poor children baseball gear.
They said Porter did not make the payments so Nuru would raise the rates city residents owe Recology for trash pickup or the fees his firm bills the city to recycle asphalt and concrete at its facility in the Bayview.
Prosecutors said he was very much involved in the alleged scheme.
“Porter did have something to do with it,” assistant U.S. attorneys David Ward and Ilham Hosseini wrote in court filings. “He personally approved the payments in 2017, 2018, and 2019, he misrepresented what they were, and in doing so, he helped conceal their true source and purpose.”
Prosecutors honed in on one particular $20,000 check from 2018 they say Porter approved the day after Nuru was recorded in a phone call pressing Giusti for money and bringing up an increase in Recology’s fees.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick on Jan. 13 shot down Porter’s request to dismiss the charges, saying prosecutors laid out enough detail for a jury to hear the case. His trial is set to begin April 17.
Attorneys for Porter did not respond to requests for comment.
Michael Barba can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org