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San Francisco corruption: Jury finds Harlan Kelly guilty of fraud charges

Former General Manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Harlan Kelly leaves federal court at 450 Golden Gate Ave. in San Francisco on June 27, 2023. | Isaac Ceja/The Standard

San Francisco’s disgraced former utilities chief Harlan Kelly was found guilty of various fraud charges Friday after a dayslong trial.

Kelly, the former general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), was charged in connection with two alleged schemes.

One involved benefits he accepted from a businessman and expediter, Walter Wong, who was seeking contracts from his department. The other involved Kelly misrepresenting debts to a loan company in an application filed with the help of real estate mogul Victor Makras.

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Kelly went to trial on eight counts. He was found guilty on four counts related to the loan scheme and guilty on two of the four counts related to the benefits he received from Wong.

During the trial, Wong testified that he helped pay for a trip to China for Kelly’s family because he wanted SFPUC contracts. Wong said he pulled strings to get the family visas for the trips, arranged free hotel stays and a personalized safari tour, paid for a gondola ride and covered the cost of medical expenses.

Defense attorneys argued that the gifts were not evidence of corruption—they were the result of a long-term close, personal friendship between the two men.

But Kelly was found guilty of a conspiracy charge related to the benefits from Wong as well as a charge for a roughly $600 seafood buffet that Wong covered for the family. He was found not guilty of two charges related to costs for repairs Wong performed on his home and for the hotel bill in Hong Kong.

Kelly looked down in court Friday, with his hands clasped in front of him, as the verdict was read. He remained expressionless when the guilty verdicts came in. His wife, former City Administrator Naomi Kelly, watched from the front row.

Asked about the verdicts in the hallway after the hearing, Harlan Kelly told The Standard he was still “processing it.” Standing next to him, his wife, Naomi Kelly, called the verdicts “unfortunate.”

“We’ll just move on,” she said. “We’ll just prepare for our next steps.”

Harlan Kelly’s attorney, Brian Getz, said the trial was a “heavy burden” on Kelly.

“He feels crushed,” Getz told reporters.

Getz said he plans to file motions seeking to dismiss the convictions and, if those fail, file an appeal.

“The defense team felt really strongly in the innocence of Harlan Kelly, and we are not surprised at the two acquittals,” Getz said. “I certainly think there is an issue as to whether Mr. Kelly’s attorneys failed him. I certainly feel that he did not deserve to be convicted.”

Harlan Kelly will return to court at a later date for sentencing.

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