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Construction boss gets 8-month prison term in San Francisco corruption case

Police cars in front of a building
Police vehicles parked in front of the Phillip Burton Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse at 450 Golden Gate Ave. in San Francisco. | Source: RJ Mickelson/The Standard

A Bay Area construction executive was sentenced to eight months in prison, one year of supervised release and a $100,000 fine in federal court Thursday after admitting to a six-year conspiracy to bribe a top San Francisco official for his help landing a lucrative city contract.

William Gilmartin III, 63, pleaded guilty in May 2021 to conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, a crime connected to bribing public officials. Since then, he has been cooperating with prosecutors, providing information on the other people involved in the scheme, according to court documents.

Gilmartin was the Vice President of ProVen Management, a Bay Area civil engineering and construction firm that specialized in large-scale infrastructure projects. He teamed up with the firm’s CEO Alan Varela and Balmore Hernandez, the CEO of another local building company, in an effort to secure ProVen Management a contract to build and operate an asphalt recycling plant on Port of San Francisco land.

To bolster their bid, the trio funneled over $127,000 to San Francisco’s Department of Public Works head Mohammed Nuru beginning in 2013, court documents say.

“The conduct here was just inexcusable. It was ugly,” said prosecutor David Ward. “This scheme was just destructive public corruption.”

Addressing the court, Gilmartin expressed regret. “I deeply apologize for my involvement in sleazy backroom deals,” he said. “I will carry the weight of my remorse for my actions for the rest of my life.”

A man walks away from the camera arm-in-arm with a woman.
William Gilmartin is pictured on the left as he exits the Federal Courthouse after his sentencing on Thursday. | Source: Noah Baustin/The Standard

Gilmartin’s attorney, Ted Cassman, said his client was motivated by the prestige of building a high-profile project in the city, not by personal enrichment.

“I believe greed had to play a part in that,” Judge William Orrick said about Gilmartin’s actions. “You wanted to make money; you weren’t doing this as a nonprofit enterprise.”

Gilmartin wanted to show people in San Francisco that he couldn’t be pushed around, and he thought that this was the way business was done in the city, his attorney said during the hearing.

“The city was dirty as fuck,” Gilmartin told The Standard after the hearing ended. “I didn’t create this corruption.”

Nuru was arrested by the FBI in January 2020 for a slew of criminal charges extending well beyond the Gilmartin case. That sparked a series of corruption cases in San Francisco, with more than two dozen people getting charged with crimes. Among the defendants were a Chinese billionaire, executives of the city’s garbage monopoly and four building inspection officials.

Both of Gilmartin’s co-conspirators were sentenced to prison. Varela got two years and was released in March 2023. Hernandez will begin six months of incarceration on Jan. 15. They were fined $127,000 and $100,000, respectively.

Nuru is currently serving a seven-year sentence in a Santa Barbara County federal prison.

ProVen Management, Inc., Varela and Gilmartin’s former company, renewed its state corporate filings in October 2023, listing Ken Welch as the CEO. San Francisco barred the company, along with other firms associated with Varela and Gilmartin, from contracting with the city until 2026. The company did not return a request for comment.

A Crooked Bid To Build an Asphalt Plant

In 2013, Gilmartin learned that San Francisco’s Department of Public Works was considering building an asphalt recycling plant on city land, according to court filings. The construction executive knew that his acquaintance Hernandez was friends with Nuru, who led the department. So he asked Hernandez to set up an introductory dinner with Nuru.

Gilmartin paid for that first dinner with Nuru, the first of many he would treat the official to over the coming years, according to Gilmartin’s attorney. Those tabs totaled over $20,000 by the time Nuru was arrested, prosecutors say.

A man stands in front of a microphone while speaking and holding his finger in the air.
Mohammed Nuru, former director of the San Francisco Department of Public Works, speaks on the steps of City Hall during a rally Oct. 15, 2019. | Source: Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

After that first meeting, Nuru agreed to help ProVen Management land the asphalt contract in exchange for a series of bribes. That included Gilmartin helping to purchase windows totaling $47,000 for Nuru’s vacation home.

When Nuru sent Gilmartin internal city information related to the proposed asphalt plant in February 2015, Gilmartin sent it to a colleague writing, “Don’t worry… this is set up for us to win.”

The city selected ProVen Management as the most responsive proposal to build the asphalt plant in 2015, kicking off a lengthy negotiation over the details with the Department of Public Works. Nuru began demanding cash for his efforts, according to court documents. So Gilmartin gave Hernandez $25,000 in cash in a box, and Hernandez delivered it to Nuru.

Gilmartin also set Hernandez up with a $105,000 consulting contract with another company so that Hernandez could use some of that money to send construction crews to Nuru’s ranch property as another type of bribe.

The trio even bought Nuru a $40,000 John Deere tractor to use at the ranch.

The three businessmen were still working to finalize their agreement with the city when Nuru was arrested in 2020, effectively killing their bid to build the plant.

A man with a thin beard, while wearing a blue sport coat laughs out loud with brown stone in the background.
Alan Varela attends the Festival Napa Valley 2023 on July 14, 2023. Varela is the former CEO of construction firm ProVen Management. | Source: Natalie Schrik for Drew Altizer Photography

A Long Construction Career

Gilmartin has a long history working in the Bay Area development industry, according to court documents. 

After starting his working life as a carpenter, Gilmartin founded his first construction company at the age of 28. But in the early 1990s, the business failed, costing the young entrepreneur his house and spinning out into criminal charges for failing to pay payroll taxes, according to court documents.

In 1998, he teamed up with Varela to join the recently founded ProVen Management firm. The pair grew the company to specialize in public works projects and worked with agencies across the Bay Area, including the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the city’s airport, according to court filings.

Over time, Gilmartin came to see himself as a cynical big shot, according to his attorney. That’s what led the construction executive to dance with the devil, which is how the devout Catholic described his crime to his daughter, according to her letter to the judge in the case.

“Looking back, I realize that I let myself believe that this was just the way business was done in San Francisco,” Gilmartin wrote in a letter to the judge ahead of sentencing, “and that we would be fools to stand aside on moral grounds while our competitors scooped up the City’s business.”

Noah Baustin can be reached at