The disgraced former DPW head allegedly tossed millions of taxpayer dollars around like candy, and benefited from loopholes with names like “BFF Gift Exemption” and “Donation Shakedown.”
The drip-drip of scandalous revelations in the FBI public corruption probe of former DPW head Mohammed Nuru has been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but this inappropriate gifts scandal will keep on giving. We know this because the City Controller’s office just released a report, the first of several, detailing reform recommendations based on policies which left long leashes for alleged gamers of the system like Nuru. We already know companies funneled money to DPH for lavish parties, that sweetheart deals were allegedly offered for SFO food court locations, and the owner of Lefty O’Doul’s paid for Mayor Breed’s Pride float, all of which may be connected in Nuru’s possibly crooked awarding of large city contracts. Today we learn of a surprising set of loopholes Nuru was able to exploit (with names like “BFF Gift Exemption” and “Donation Shakedown”) in a Mission Local report on how Nuru handed out $10.5 million in contracts with no oversight.
The incriminating figures can be seen in the screenshot above from the City Controller report. The Examiner adds that Nuru was able to throw around millions in your tax dollars via contracts that “were awarded through no discernable selection process and are at the greatest risk of fraud or abuse in the award process,” per the report. (You’ll notice another unaccounted $3.5 million at the bottom of that graphic, so who knows if/when that shoe will drop.)
And all of this was legal, because Nuru and DPW had no oversight commission, and the buck basically stopped with Nuru. “In August 2011 Mayor Edwin M. Lee designated Mr. Nuru as the director of Public Works to act on the Mayor’s behalf in the approval of various aspects of the contracting process,” the report explains, “including to award all public work, professional service, and construction contracts in excess of the threshold amount, which is currently set at $706,000.”
Yes, the DPW Director was HIS OWN OVERSIGHT. Unbelievable. We are going to prohibit that, and I have also proposed a Commission to serve as oversight body for DPW, similar to most Depts. Despite being months into this corruption scandal, this still had not been fixed by Mayor.— Matt Haney (@MattHaneySF) June 29, 2020
Mission Local’s reporting says two of above-noted “directly awarded” contracts went to the plea-deal copping permit expediter Walter Wong, himself a contractor, who worked as a consultant on the now pretty suspect looking 555 Fulton development financed by Chinese magnate Zhang Li. Federal investigators say that Zhang gave Nuru a tractor, a $2,000 bottle of wine, and all-expenses-paid trip to Chile with Girlfriend 1, now identified as subordinate Sandra Zuniga.
Mayor London Breed, who has her own unflattering connection with all this that goes well beyond a Pride float, told the Examiner “I am committed to doing the work to strengthen oversight and accountability in all our departments to prevent future wrongdoing and corruption.” To that end, Supervisor Matt Haney is introducing legislation to remove many of the gift-giving and palm-greasing loopholes which will be known going forward as “BFF Gift Exemption” and “Donation Shakedown.”
#4. BFF Gift Exemption: By allowing for department heads and other city officials to accept gifts from people attempting to do business with the City without any reporting requirements or limits under the guise of a pre-existing relationship..— Matt Haney (@MattHaneySF) June 29, 2020
In other words, many of Nuru’s alleged improprieties may have fallen under the “not technically illegal, just shady” gray area. But keep in mind that Nuru had Ed Lee’s old job, and was hired for the job specifically by Lee, and clearly there was some familiarity with where legal gray areas could be found.
Image: @MrCleanSF via Twitter