The Planning Department, Department of Public Health, and the City Administrator's Office have all been hit with subpoenas stemming from the sprawling federal investigation into corruption in San Francisco government.
The latest set of subpoenas, obtained by the Chronicle, sound both onerous in their scope and familiar in dealing with the sort of low-level corruption the feds have uncovered thus far — primarily padding the pockets of some longtime city officials and contractors through sweetheart contracts and such. One of the subpoenas, sent to the city’s custodian of records in early May, for instance, is seeking any and all "invitations, posters, fliers, announcements and programs" pertaining to any "holiday party, picnic, breakfast, award or recognition ceremony" for the City Administrator’s Office or Public Works over the last 10 years.
The City Attorney's Office's simultaneous investigation has already revealed a relationship between former Public Works director Mohammed Nuru and local entrepreneur Nick Bovis, in which Bovis appears to have taken donations from his charity (Lefty O'Doul's Foundation for Kids), given by city contractors, and funneled them to cover DPW holiday parties. Now it looks like the feds are following up on this pattern and trying to see if there are more examples of city vendors possibly disguising bribes that benefited city employees as charitable gifts.
As the Chronicle reports, Bovis's foundation is named along with Recology and the San Francisco Parks Alliance as entities the feds are seeking mentions of in all meeting notes, minutes, and communications from these city departments.
The latest subpoenas also reflect the ongoing probe into the city's dealings with two businesses run by city contractor Florence Kong, who was charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office in early June with lying to investigators about gifts she allegedly gave to Nuru. Her businesses, Kwan Wo Ironworks and SFR Recovery, are among several businesses that do lots of business with the city including PG&E and Recology about which the feds are seeking a decade's worth of documents and correspondence.
One example investigators have given of the sort of transparent but still somewhat wink-wink emails and letters they're looking for is one from 2015 in which Public Works Deputy Director for Operations Larry Stringer wrote to Recology inviting them to a department picnic in McLaren Park and asking for the company's "support" in making the event a "success." The letter goes on to spell out that Recology can do this by making a donation to the department's "fiscal sponsor," the non-profit SF Parks Alliance.
The Department of Public Health has been dragged into this apparently in connection with a facility that was built at 2401 Ingalls Street, just north of Candlestick Point, by Kong's construction-waste management firm SFR Recovery. DPH was tasked with signing off on the health and safety of the facility, as its permits moved through the city.
While City Administrator Naomi Kelly has not yet been named in any of the subpoenas, her husband, SF Public Utilities Commission General Manager Harlan Kelly, has, per the Chronicle. It's unclear what, if any, cooperation has been ongoing between Naomi Kelly and the feds — but the Chronicle reveals that it was Kelly herself who called and alerted the FBI when Nuru contacted her in January to tip her off about the federal probe. It was previously unclear how federal investigators knew about the tipoff — Nuru was re-arrested and the complaint against him and Bovis made public in late January after he initially had likely entered into a cooperation agreement with the feds.
Since then, multiple department heads and other figures have been embroiled in this, including Nuru's girlfriend, Sandra Zuniga, who serves as director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services; and Tom Hui, the former head of the Department of Building Inspection who went on leave in March.
Photo: Gordon Mak