The ongoing federal prosecution of City Hall corruption schemes that, thus far, have all had alleged ties back to former Department of Public Works chief Mohammed Nuru has netted two more guilty pleas this week.
As the Examiner reports, former city employee turned contractor Balmore Hernandez has pleaded guilty to a count of felony honest services wire fraud. Hernandez, who is the CEO of construction firm AzulWorks that had contracts with DPW, had initially faced a charge of bribery back in June, but he is reportedly cooperating with federal prosecutors in exchange for the lesser charge and leniency.
Also pleading guilty is Florence Kong, who is admitting to bribery and lying to the FBI. Kong is the owner of a construction firm as well as a debris recycling company who did business with DPW.
According to prosecutors, Hernandez gifted over $250,000 in free labor and construction materials for Nuru's Colusa County vacation home in exchange for those lucrative contracts; and Kong gave Nuru a $40,000 Rolex watch. Both appeared before a judge this week, and Kong reportedly "appeared to hold back tears as she entered her plea," per the Examiner.
Both Hernandez and Kong were charged back in June alongside Nuru's girlfriend, Sandra Zuniga, who serves as director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, otherwise known as the city's "Fix-It Team."
Hernandez was also reportedly involved in helping two other contractors, Alan Varela and William Gilmartin III, get a deal with the city. And Varela and Gilmartin just received their charges in September.
Hernandez and Kong are now the third and fourth individuals involved in the scandal to plead guilty and cooperate with the investigation. Restaurateur Nick Bovis, who was named in the initial complaint against Nuru, and permit expeditor and city contractor Walter Wong both pleaded guilty in recent months.
Both face possible jail time despite their cooperation. Kong faces up to 10 years in prison as well as a $250,000 fine; and Hernandez faces up to 20 years and the same fine. Each has a sentencing hearing scheduled for early next year.
Photo: David Vives