It's like the "Shrimp Boy" scandal all over again! Among the multiple allegations against SF Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru in a federal complaint released Tuesday is a bizarre scheme in which he was allegedly helping restaurant and bar owner Nick Bovis get a city contract to provide portable toilets and mobile housing for the homeless.
Several — but not all — instances of the "corruption, bribery kickbacks and side deals" Nuru is accused of involve his friend Bovis, and both men appeared in federal court yesterday and were each released on $2 million bonds. As David Anderson, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, announced at a news conference Tuesday, Nuru welcomed "corruption pouring into San Francisco from around the world," apparently referring to some alleged quid pro quo action involving a Chinese developer. And Nuru was apparently using some city contractors to work on his Colusa County vacation home, either for free or at a much discounted rate, in exchange for lucrative city contracts.
Bovis is the owner and operator of Lefty O'Doul's, the baseball-themed hofbrau and bar that shuttered in Union Square amid much publicity in early 2017 only to reopen in the posher digs of the former Rainforest Cafe on Fisherman's Wharf a year and a half later. Bovis also owns Broadway Grill in Burlingame, and co-owns the chicken restaurant Spinnerie, and up until this month he had been running The Gold Dust Lounge near the Wharf, having relocated the bar from Union Square seven years ago.
According to the federal complaint, Nuru and Bovis conspired in several schemes to funnel more city business opportunities to Bovis.
- In 2018, Bovis and Nuru allegedly tried to bribe an airport commissioner to land Bovis a restaurant lease for Spinnerie at SFO. Federal investigators say that Bovis told a source that Nuru had instructed him to put $5,000 cash together for him to hand off to the commissioner, but the unnamed airport official apparently did not accept the bribe.
- Also in 2018, via an apparent tap on Nuru's cellphone, the feds say they intercepted calls in which Nuru talked to Bovis about helping him score a lease for a restaurant space at the Transbay Transit Center. This was by way of Nuru's role as chair of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority.
- Thirdly, and most strangely, Bovis stretched outside his bar and restaurant experience to provide consulting and design work for a mobile toilet project for DPW's Pit Stop program for the homeless. These toilets with fancy interiors were designed to look like SF's Victorian "Painted Ladies", and it's unclear what happened beyond the initial prototypes made by Bovis's Tiny Potties enterprise. The complaint also alleges that Nuru was working on getting Bovis a contract for mobile shelters for the homeless as well.
The allegation about the Chinese developer, as the Examiner reports, comes via intercepted emails in which Nuru was apparently thanking the man for a free vacation in China provided to him and his daughter. The complaint alleges that Nuru shared a $2,000 bottle of wine with the developer, and bragged to a girlfriend about being put up in a "seven-star" hotel owned by the developer.
The fifth "scheme" in the affidavit concerns Nuru's weekend home in Stonyford, California, which he has been in the process of remodeling. Two separate contractors who have contracts with the city were allegedly providing free or discounted work at the home, and a DPW employee appears to have been involved in securing a concrete contractor as well.
As discussed yesterday, Nuru has a bit of a history of accusations of corruption going back to when he first took the job as deputy director of DPW back in 2000, under then-director Ed Lee. Those accusations included hiring a group of staffers from a nonprofit he previously ran, getting city-funded labor to clean up a vacant lot near his Bayview home, and directing staffers to campaign for former mayor Gavin Newsom.
As the Chronicle reports today, the man nicknamed "Mr. Clean" was the can-do, go-to guy for all kinds of cleanups around the city under four different mayors. But that 20-year tenure in City Hall is now looking like it came with lots of red flags that got brushed aside or ignored. "At mind-numbingly slow City Hall, that get-things-done attitude [of Nuru's] stood in stark contrast to so many departments," the Chronicle writes. But simultaneously, supervisors including Matt Haney and Hillary Ronen are blaming Nuru for mismanaging his department, and quietly running the city's image into the ground by letting potholes go unfixed and stalling on getting more city trash receptacles onto the streets.
In a statement from Nuru's lawyer, he's described as "a dedicated public servant in San Francisco for decades." And the statement says "Mr. Nuru welcomes and looks forward to addressing these charges in court."
Mayor London Breed issued a statement Tuesday saying, "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."
The scandal echoes the "Shrimp Boy" affair of 2014/2015, in which state Senator Leland Yee was ensnared in a bribery and corruption probe involving the Chinese Mafia that also ended up implicating other city officials, and even landed on The Daily Show.