SF Public Works Director, Lefty O’ Doul’s restaurant owner charged in corruption case

Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – A top San Francisco official and a local restaurant owner have been arrested and charged with public corruption, the FBI announced Tuesday.

San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, 57, was in custody Monday, along with Nick Bovis, the 56-year-old owner of Lefty O’ Doul’s, a popular sports bar in Fisherman’s Wharf.

Both have been charged with honest services wire fraud in connection with an alleged scheme to bribe a San Francisco Airport Commissioner, according to the United States Attorney David L. Anderson.

Mohammed Nuru (AP Photo/ Jeff Chiu, File) | Nick Bovis (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

“The complaint alleges corruption, bribery, side deals by one of San Francisco’s highest-ranking public employees. Federal law gives the citizens of San Francisco a right to honest services from their public officials. San Francisco has been betrayed as alleged in the complaint,” Anderson said. 

If they are convicted, the two could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

According to the complaint, Nuru and Bovis engaged in a scheme to bribe an unnamed San Francisco Airport Commissioner with cash and free travel in exchange for the commissioner’s assistance to win a bid for the right to run a restaurant in the San Francisco International Airport.

In total, the complaint alleges five schemes: an airport scheme, a building development project scheme, a Transbay transit scheme, a homeless shelter and public restroom scheme and a Stonyford vacation home scheme.

The DA alleged that Nuru used his official position to benefit a billionaire in China who was developing a large multimillion-dollar mixed-use project in San Francisco, in exchange for travel and lodging, high-end liquor, and other gifts and benefits.

Another scheme involves Nuru attempting to use his position as the chair of the TJPA to secure a desirable lease for Bovis in the Transbay Transit Center, in exchange for benefits provided by Bovis.

Nuru is also accused of providing Bovis with inside information on city projects regarding portable bathroom trailers and small container-like housing units for use by the homeless so that Bovis could win contracts for those projects.

The fifth alleged scheme involves Nuru obtaining free and discounted labor and construction equipment from contractors to help him build a personal vacation home in Colusa County, California, while those contractors were also engaging in business with the City.

Nuru has been the top official in charge of the $312 million city public works budget since 2012. He is tasked with cleaning up San Francisco streets, which critics note remain cluttered with feces, trash and used needles amid a homelessness crisis.

Nuru was first appointed to the department as deputy director under then-director Ed Lee, who later became mayor.

Nuru, who goes by “MrCleanSF” on Twitter, also oversees the design and construction of city facilities and 1,600 employees. It’s capital project portfolio is more than $5.6 billion

The department has more recently been lauded for its portable public toilet “Pit Stop” program, which supporters say has reduced the need for steam cleaning human waste in some areas.

Nuru was initially taken into custody on January 21 but was released to FBI custody after agreeing to cooperate with their investigation. He agreed to not disclose information on the investigation, however, he falsely claimed that he abided by the condition of release which resulted in a new arrest.

On Tuesday, Nuru was released on a $2-million bond.

Bovis was arrested on Monday and had his first court appearance on Tuesday. He was also released on a $2-million bond.

Both men will be due back in court on Feb. 6.

“Government employees are entrusted and expected to protect the best interests of the American public with integrity. When that trust is betrayed, the security and stability of our government is put at risk,” said Special Agent in Charge John Bennett. “The FBI will continue to investigate and hold accountable any public official who utilizes their position for personal gain.”

The legal team representing Nuru released a statement on Tuesday evening:

“Mohammed Nuru, a father of five, has been a dedicated public servant in San Francisco for decades.

Before joining Public Works, he served the City through his years-long service at a non-profit. He is grateful to have worked alongside the many committed and talented individuals of Public Works.

Mr. Nuru welcomes and looks forward to addressing these charges in court.”

FILE – In this Nov. 20, 2018, file photo, from left, owner Nick Bovis, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, state assemblyman David Chiu speaking and city public works director Mohammed Nuru take part in the opening ceremonies of Lefty O’Doul’s Baseball Ballpark Buffet & Café at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

San Francisco Mayor London Breed released a statement following the announcement:

“These allegations against Mohammed Nuru are extremely serious, and we will cooperate fully with any investigation. The City Administrator placed Mohammed Nuru on administrative leave effective Monday evening, and she will soon announce an interim leadership strategy for the Department of Public Works. I’m asking the City Attorney and the Controller to conduct a thorough review of any implicated City contracts or other decisions and to investigate any suspected violations of the law or the stringent guidelines and rules that ensure the integrity of our contracting process.

We do not know all the facts of the case at this moment and what will transpire through this investigation going forward. Nothing matters more than the public trust, and each and every one of us who works for the City must hold ourselves to the highest standard. I accept nothing less for myself or for those who serve in this Administration, and I will do everything I can to ensure that those who fail to uphold that standard are held accountable.” 

Supervisor Matt Haney also commented on the arrest saying this is a sad day for the city:

“San Franciscans deserve transparent, accountable, effective government, and it is clear that there is so much more to be done to ensure that this becomes a reality. The Department of Public Works has vast responsibilities, and for far too long there has been too much power concentrated in the hands of its Director with very little oversight.

The Department is filled with many hardworking employees who genuinely care about our city and take pride in doing their jobs; however, the hard work and good intentions of our public servants has been consistently undermined by a director who treats the department like a one-person fiefdom, where anything he says goes.

Haney goes on to say that the residents of San Francisco deserve better starting with a complete restructuring of the department, including stronger public oversight.

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