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Lefty O’Doul’s restaurateur gets prison time for City Hall bribery

A man in a suit with glasses stands by a door, looking toward the camera, with a blurry person in foreground.
Nick Bovis was sentenced by a federal judge Thursday for his role in the City Hall corruption scandal surrounding former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

A San Francisco restaurateur who used a charity for needy kids to funnel bribes to a powerful City Hall official was sentenced to nine months in prison Thursday, despite attempts to avoid time behind bars.

Senior U.S. District Judge William Orrick handed down the sentence to restaurateur Nick Bovis, best known for his now-shuttered Lefty O’Doul’s hofbrau in Union Square, after chastising Bovis for his crimes.

Bovis was the first person arrested by the FBI alongside former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru in January 2020, when a widespread City Hall corruption scandal first came to light. The controversy would later implicate more than two dozen other city officials, businesspeople and companies.

While Orrick said Bovis was mostly unsuccessful, he said the restaurateur wanted to “get in on any contract” that he could from Nuru regardless of whether he was qualified to receive them, including one that he sought to make portable toilets that looked like Victorian homes.

“While Mr. Nuru is certainly the leader of the pack of this part of the public corruption,” Orrick told Bovis. “You are the face of private corruption in San Francisco for this scandal, and you are the face for a reason.”

A man, wearing a facemask, closes his door while looking into the distance.
Mohammed Nuru partnered with Nick Bovis in various corrupt schemes. | Source: Paul Kuroda for The Standard

The sentence was in line with the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s request to give Bovis nine months behind bars. Orrick also sided with prosecutors in deciding to sentence Bovis to a year of supervised release and $100,000 fine.

Bovis’ attorneys, Michael Stepanian and Gil Eisenberg, argued that he should be sentenced to home confinement and community service because he began cooperating with the FBI investigation almost immediately after his arrest. 

“We went in the next day after his arraignment, and we answered all of the questions,” said Stepanian. “He said, ‘All I can do is tell the truth.”

Bovis pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud in May 2020 after prosecutors said he accepted bribe payments for Nuru through his charity, the Lefty O’Doul’s Foundation for Kids.

While the nonprofit was set up to take kids to baseball games and give them baseball bats and gloves, prosecutors said the San Francisco waste company Recology made $60,000 in payments labeled as "holiday donations" to the charity that were actually used to throw parties for Nuru and his staff.

At the time, Nuru was in charge of approving rate hikes for Recology, which controls a monopoly on garbage collection in San Francisco.

“It’s supposed to be a foundation for kids, for charity,” said David Ward, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case. “And Mr. Bovis knowingly allowed that to be used as a conduit for bribe payments.”

Prosecutors said Bovis and Nuru also conspired to bribe an airport commissioner in an attempt to secure restaurant space at San Francisco International Airport; however, the plans never came to fruition.

Separately, Bovis pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud over a scheme to obtain $85,000 in insurance benefits following a fire at one of his restaurants.

While he admitted to the insurance fraud, his attorneys said he put the money back into the restaurant and his staff.

Before receiving his sentence, Bovis held back tears as he apologized for his crimes and for tarnishing the reputation of his family and charity.

“I am doing the best I can for my city and my family now, but my conduct tarnished the Lefty O'Doul's Foundation,” Bovis told the judge. “There was a lot of good in that, but now I have ruined it.”

Bovis said he was “out of control” with ambition.

“I really wanted to be a big shot," he said. "I was out of my league."

Bovis was ordered to surrender by early July to begin serving his sentence.