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She bribed a city official with a gold Rolex. Now she owes a $750K settlement

A woman in a red shirt holds a microphone.
Florence Kong speaks during an event in San Francisco. | Source: Courtesy Photo World Journal

A Bay Area construction executive who gave a top San Francisco official a gold Rolex watch in exchange for helping her get contracts has agreed to a $750,000 settlement with the city for restitution and ethics penalties, City Attorney David Chiu announced Tuesday.

Florence Kong pleaded guilty to bribery and lying to the FBI in October 2020 for giving the $37,000 watch to Mohammed Nuru in 2019. At that time, Nuru was the head of San Francisco’s Department of Public Works. After pleading guilty to the federal criminal charges, Kong served a one-year prison sentence and paid a $95,000 fine.

The new six-figure settlement stems from a San Francisco public integrity investigation launched by the city attorney and controller in January 2020, shortly after the FBI arrested Nuru on a slew of corruption charges. The proposed settlement will need to be approved by the Board of Supervisors and mayor before it becomes final.

“This settlement sends a strong message that those who undermine our contracting processes will have to pay for those actions,” Chiu said.

Repayments of $640,500 that Kong and her companies received under city contracts make up the bulk of the settlement, with $109,500 in penalties for ethics violations making up the rest.

In the settlement, Kong did not contest that her criminal conduct violated San Francisco’s laws prohibiting bribery. Further, three companies she has led are also parties to the settlement, and they did not contest the allegation that they were irresponsible bidders and that they engaged in misconduct.

Kong, SFR Recovery and Kin Wo Construction Inc. will be banned from applying for or receiving city contacts until March 1, 2026. 

Kong’s attorney and her three companies did not reply to requests for comment.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin said that anyone considering scheming the city contracting process should see the settlement as a warning.

“If you cheat the city, we’re going to come after you and make it right for the taxpayers,” Peskin said.

A man, wearing a facemask, closes his door while looking into the distance.
Mohammed Nuru, former director of SF Public Works, leaves his sentencing in federal court in San Francisco in August 2022. | Source: Paul Kuroda for The Standard

SFR Recovery was a city contractor that Kong was the CEO of until at least June 2020, according to the settlement agreement. The company runs a construction and demolition debris recycling facility in San Francisco’s Hunters Point neighborhood, according to its website. The company, alongside Kong, was first suspended as a city contractor in March 2021. Kong gave up management and ownership of SFR Recovery after facing criminal charges, according to court documents.

Kong incorporated Kin Wo Construction Inc. in 1996 and has served as its CEO since then, according to the settlement agreement.

Kong also led a third company called Kwan Wo Ironworks Inc. before her criminal case. She founded Kwan Wo Ironworks Inc. with her now-deceased husband, Kit Wing Shum, in 1991, according to court documents. Now based in Hayward, the company advertises numerous completed high-profile projects on its websites, including work for BART, the San Francisco War Memorial Veterans Building, Oakland International Airport, City College of San Francisco and the Asian Art Museum.

Kwan Wo Ironworks has severed all ties with Kong, according to the City Attorney’s Office. It will serve out the remainder of its suspension as a city contractor first imposed in March 2021, which will last until March of this year, but will not face additional debarment.

The 66-year-old Kong was born in Hong Kong and first immigrated to the United States in 1990, according to court documents. She gave Nuru the Rolex watch in December 2019 as a reward for him directing business to SFR Recovery in the form of a city contract to dispose of construction debris there, according to her plea agreement.

Kong also agreed to build a gate and deck on Nuru’s vacation property, according to a memo written by her attorney.

Nuru is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence. Nuru and Kong were both arrested as part of a series of corruption cases in San Francisco that have resulted in 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.

Another local construction boss was sentenced to eight months in prison earlier this month for bribing Nuru.

Noah Baustin can be reached at