Former San Francisco Public Works director admits to string of briberies and corruption during years in office


Mohammed Nuru agrees to plead guilty to committing honest services wire fraud as San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW) head

Date: December 17, 2021


SAN FRANCISCO — Former San Francisco City Hall public official Mohammed Nuru agreed in a plea agreement filed today to plead guilty to honest services wire fraud, announced Acting United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair, and Internal Revenue Service–Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Mark H. Pearson.

Today's development follows the January 15, 2020, 79-page federal complaint filed against then San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW) director Mohammed Nuru charging him with public corruption and describing a long-running scheme involving multiple bribes and kickbacks during his tenure as DPW's Director. Nuru, 59, of San Francisco, served as DPW's director from 2011 until charges were brought against him in 2020. Nuru was also charged in a second federal complaint filed on January 28, 2020, with lying to a federal agent in the course of the San Francisco City Hall corruption investigation. Today, in anticipation of entering his plea agreement resolving his cases, Nuru was arraigned today on an information – a charging document – that charges him with his sweeping scheme to defraud the San Francisco public of its right to his honest services in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 1346.

"Mohammed Nuru admits to a staggering amount of public corruption in his plea agreement," said Acting United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds. "For years, Nuru held a powerful and well-paid public leadership position at San Francisco City Hall, but instead of serving the public, Nuru served himself. He took continuous bribes from the contractors, developers, and entities he regulated. He now faces a prison sentence for enriching himself at the expense of the public as he sat in high office. Federal authorities will investigate public corruption wherever it leads in San Francisco and throughout the district."

"Today's announcement, while significant, is by no means the end of the FBI's investigation into the corrupt conduct we have uncovered in San Francisco city government," said FBI Special Agent in Charge D. Fair. "We will continue to hold accountable those who seek to personally benefit by corrupting the fair administration of public business and we will persist in our commitment to protect the integrity of the institutions that serve the people of San Francisco."

"Our communities place great trust and responsibility in our public figures. Mohammed Nuru ultimately betrayed this trust when he abused his power to defraud the City and County of San Francisco and its people," said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Mark H. Pearson. "We will not tolerate public corruption and will hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. Today's guilty plea is a direct result of the hard work and dedication of IRS Criminal Investigation and our law enforcement partners towards obtaining justice."

Nuru signed today's plea agreement and the agreement has been filed with the United States District Court in preparation for Nuru's upcoming appearance to enter his guilty plea orally. As the plea agreement outlines, before Nuru was appointed Director of DPW in 2011 he became DPW's Deputy Director of Operations in 2000. The Deputy Director of Operations is DPW's second most senior position, behind only the Director. In 2014, Nuru was also appointed to the Board of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) and eventually served as its Chair. As Deputy Director and eventually Director of DPW, and as Chair of the TJPA, Nuru exercised great influence over San Francisco (the City) business and policy, including public contracts, permits, and construction projects. His power and influence extended beyond DPW's jurisdiction to numerous other City departments and agencies, making him one of the most powerful public officials in the City.

Nuru admits in his plea agreement to a spectrum of public corruption involving bribery and kickbacks he received while in DPW leadership. His admissions are summarized below:

Walter Wong:

In his plea agreement, Nuru admits he received a stream of bribes from Walter Wong. Wong did business in the City through Walter Wong Construction, among other businesses. In exchange for Wong's bribes, Nuru helped Wong secure City contracts. Sometimes Nuru provided Wong with confidential insider City information on competitors' bids or specifications. At other times Nuru allowed Wong to structure the requirements for the City's Request for Proposals (RFP) for projects ahead of time, to tailor their requirements to ensure that Wong's company would be the most-qualified bidder. Nuru also helped Wong expedite permit approvals.

Nuru admits in his plea agreement that his "corrupt relationship" with Wong began in approximately 2008 when Nuru was the Deputy Director for Operations at DPW. Wong installed a gate for free at Nuru's San Francisco home in exchange for future business with DPW and the City. Wong continued to perform construction services for free, or nearly free, at Nuru's San Francisco home and later primarily at Nuru's vacation ranch property in Colusa County.

Nuru admits that, in exchange for Wong providing construction and other things of value, he exercised his official influence and took actions to benefit Wong. In one example outlined in the plea agreement, Nuru used DPW's emergency contract process, which did not require a public bidding process, to direct construction work to Walter Wong Construction on a navigation center located at 1515 South Van Ness Street and on the Jelani House (a housing shelter), resulting in City payments to Wong's company during fiscal years 2017-2018 and 2019-2020. In another example, Nuru used his position and official influence to direct DPW, the Market Street Association, and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to purchase Christmas lights from one of Wong's businesses, regularly leading to tens of thousands of dollars' worth of purchases.

Nuru further admits in his plea agreement that:

  • between approximately 2008 and January 2020, Wong provided in excess of $260,000 in labor and materials for work on Nuru's San Francisco home and Colusa County ranch.
  • Wong paid for home furnishings for Nuru, including a chandelier, kitchen appliances, and furniture.
  • Wong paid for Nuru to travel to China multiple times and to South America on one occasion, which included reimbursing Nuru in cash for the cost of international flights. Wong paid for Nuru and Sandra Zuniga, his girlfriend at the time, to accompany Nuru to South America and paid for their stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Santiago, Chile.
  • on multiple occasions, Wong handed Nuru envelopes of cash, often as much as $5,000 at a time.