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San Francisco corruption: Ex-parole officer turned pop singer accused of bribery

A screenshot shows Ken Hong Wong at City Hall in 2018. | SFGovTV

The latest defendant charged with bribing former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru in San Francisco’s City Hall corruption scandal is a former state parole agent and local Chinatown performer.

Ken Hong Wong, 58, was charged Monday for allegedly giving Nuru $20,000 in cash payments so that the disgraced official would hire someone for an engineering role at Public Works, federal court records show.

Wong was a politically active veteran parole agent who supervised the San Francisco field office before his retirement in 2015, according to his defense attorney and press reports from the time. He worked closely with Nuru on a cleanup program that helped people get off parole early through volunteer work.

He also appears to be a well-known singer in the Chinese-speaking community, whose performances have taken him beyond San Francisco’s Chinatown on a Canadian tour.

Wong received commendations for his parole work from then-District Attorney Kamala Harris, former Gov. Jerry Brown and the Board of Supervisors. Social media posts show him posing for photos with officials including state Treasurer Fiona Ma, the late Mayor Ed Lee and Mayor London Breed.

Wong is out of custody on bond and pleaded not guilty in court Tuesday to charges of bribery and conspiracy. However, his defense attorney Steven Gruel told The Standard that Wong plans to change his plea and admit that the cash payments he gave Nuru amounted to bribery.

Gruel said Wong does not dispute that he gave Nuru $20,000.

Wong made the payments after one of his friends asked him to use his relationship with Nuru to help get a third, unnamed person, a job with Public Works, Gruel said. Wong then met with Nuru, who allegedly told him that it would cost $20,000 to get the person a job, according to Gruel.

Gruel said Wong’s friend gave him the money, which Wong passed along to Nuru in four payments of $5,000 each. The job seeker “temporarily” had a Public Works job, according to Gruel.

Federal prosecutors say Wong made the payments between December 2018 and July 2019.

Gruel declined to identify Wong’s friend or the person seeking the Public Works job. Neither were named in court documents. Wong did not know the person seeking the job, and the pair never met, Gruel said. 

While Wong does not dispute that he passed on the payments, Gruel maintains that his client did not personally benefit from the transaction, had a distinguished career as a parole officer and has fully cooperated with the FBI.

Wong “made a mistake after his years as a parole officer,” Gruel said. “Now, it’s time to pay the piper and finish this up.”

Wong is the first defendant charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the scandal surrounding Nuru since 2021. He is the 17th defendant charged since the controversy broke in 2020 with Nuru’s arrest over a series of kickback schemes. The cases exposed a widespread culture of casual corruption swirling around Nuru and other city leaders.

When federal prosecutors sought to sentence one of those defendants for bribing Nuru with a $37,000 Rolex watch, Wong spoke out for her. Wong said that the businesswoman, Florence Kong, hired several felons at her steel company at his request so that they could have a second chance in society.

“Florence made a mistake this time,” Wong wrote in a letter asking a judge to give her a lenient sentence. “She showed to me that she is very remorseful … I do not believe society would benefit from Florence’s incarceration and hope the court will come to the same conclusion as I have.”

Kong ended up getting a one-year prison sentence.

Public Works spokesperson Rachel Gordon said the department has not been provided with the name of the potential engineering hire in question in the case, and is not aware of other allegations of job candidates making payments to city officials.

“Jobs are not for sale at Public Works,” Gordon said. “If someone tried to take that route to get a job, then the justice system needs to do its job.”

A Distinguished Career

In 2013, Wong gave an interview to Fiona Ma, the longtime politico, for a regular feature she wrote for the publication AsianWeek. The story described Wong as an immigrant from China who came to San Francisco at age 15 and worked several jobs, including at his family’s restaurant in Chinatown.

In his role leading the parole office in San Francisco, Wong worked with Nuru to have parolees work in the community.

“Each Saturday (my day off) we do a cleanup … with the parolees who want early discharge consideration and the Department of Public Works where I work closely with Mohammed Nuru, Director and others at DPW, over the past 15 years,” he said. “We clean graffiti, pick up debris, help the community.”

In total, Wong worked for California State Parole from 1987 until his retirement in 2015, according to his defense attorney.

Now, the retiree focuses his energy on singing, Gruel said. Online videos show the former parole agent performing onstage, including at a charity event at the Herbst Theatre in January featuring Ma—who is running for lieutenant governor—as the “special guest.”

His stage name, 金城大少,  translates to “San Francisco's Big Brother/Master.”

Wong recently returned from a Canadian singing tour, Gruel said. The performer needs to turn in his passport as part of the conditions of his bond.

If convicted, Wong could face up to 15 years behind bars and $500,000 in fines, according to court filings.

Han Li contributed additional reporting for this story.
Noah Baustin can be reached at

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