It's been four months and a pandemic later, but we are still talking about the rampant, some say "low level," corruption that has apparently existed at San Francisco City Hall for decades. And on Monday the U.S. Attorney's Office announced charges against three more individuals in the case that began with former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru and local restaurateur Nick Bovis.
The Department of Justice announced new charges against the woman formerly known in federal complaint documents as "Girlfriend 1," and that would be Nuru's longtime romantic partner and Sandra Zuniga. Zuniga, who serves as director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, was outed as "Girlfriend 1" way back in February, and as 48 Hills explains, the new charges are fairly damning in suggesting years of helping Nuru to launder money that was allegedly slipped to him by various city contractors.
Also newly charged are longtime DPW employee Balmore Hernandez, who is now CEO of a locally based construction engineering firm called AzulWorks; and Florence Kong, the owner of a local construction and debris recycling company. Hernandez is charged with bribery in gifting over $250,000 in free labor and construction materials for Nuru's Colusa County vacation home, in exchange for lucrative city contracts. Kong is charged with lying to investigators about gifts she allegedly gave Nuru — including a $40,000 Rolex watch — in order to get city business steered her way.
"The federal investigation into City Hall corruption has not been sidetracked by COVID-19 or other recent traumatic events," said San Francisco-based U.S. Attorney Dave Anderson in a Monday statement. "Today’s criminal complaints will not be the last. To everyone with a piece of this corruption, again I urge you to help make things right for San Francisco. Run, don’t walk to the FBI, before it is too late for you to cooperate."
As discussed in the original complaints that were unsealed back in January and February, a lot of Nuru's agenda appeared to be focused on this vacation home, which he built in recent years in the remote down of Stonyford, in Colusa County. Zuniga is accused of an elaborate scheme to accept money from city contractors, deposit it one of her accounts, and write checks to make partial payments on the mortgage for the Stonyford home.
According to the new complaint, "from March 2014 to January 2020, Zuniga made over $135,000 in cash deposits, on top of her City of San Francisco paycheck." She reportedly deposited $1,000 on top of her paycheck into her checking account every month, and would turn around and make $1,000 payments on the mortgage.
Also according to the complaint, "Hernandez supplied Nuru with more than $50,000 worth of tile and stone for the vacation home and then asked Nuru for help saving AzulWorks’ bid for a multi-million dollar project for which it had submitted an unqualified proposal." AzulWorks would ultimately win that city contract, which was worth $1.9 million.
Zuniga was charged with one count of conspiracy to launder money, and now faces up to 20 years in prison and a potential half-million-dollar fine. Hernandez faces up to 10 years, and Kong up to five, as Mission Local reports.
Three weeks ago, we learned that originally named co-conspirator Nick Bovis had agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud and cooperate with investigators in exchange for a lighter sentence. And more deals like that are likely to come.
Nuru resigned from his post in early February and is currently out on $2 million bail, awaiting trial.
It seemed clear from the circumstances of the federal complaint being unsealed that Nuru and Bovis had been approached about cooperating — and perhaps did not know the extent of the FBI's surveillance of them. Nuru proceeded to alert friends in City Hall of the investigation, and he was subsequently charged with lying to investigators.