SF households will be reimbursed an average of $190 by Recology, amidst charges of bribes to the disgraced former Public Works director that persuaded him to approve rate hikes.
When we think of bribery in the now-13-month-old Mohammed Nuru DPW scandal, we think of bribes like permit expediters giving Nuru Rolex watches, or billionaire real estate developers buttering him up with luxury trips to China and $2,000 bottles of wine. We forget that some of the money Nuru was allegedly bribed with was our money. Specifically, our trash and recycling bills from Recology. We know this because today Recology agreed to reimburse San Francisco customers $94.5 million as the Chronicle reports, as Nuru allegedly accepted bribes from Recology to approve rate hikes that were paid by you, the Recology customer.
(NOTE: As a fun exercise, SFist will pepper this post with Twitter embeds from Nuru’s still-active, ironically named @MrCleanSF Twitter account that in retrospect, show the corrupt kickback relationship in action, but are disguised as good-guy, “Great day out doing public service yadda yadda yadda” tweets. Even Nuru’s alleged bribery trip to China tweets are still posted. According to the City Attorney's and the City Controller's offices, the bribes all happened between 2016 and 2020, so each of the tweets was posted while the kickback scheme was in effect.)
The settlement acknowledges that as the DPW director, Nuru had the sole ability to approve Recology rate hikes. And for his part, Nuru gave “Big thanks to @RecologySF” for money, meals, and lavish holiday party donations for overcharging us. KQED notes that the overcharge rebates are about $95 million, but Recology “will also make a $7 million settlement payment to the city, bumping its total tab to over $100 million.” This is essentially a handshake deal, but City Attorney Dennis Herrera simultaneously also submitted a lawsuit to make the arrangement legally binding.
“With this legal action, we are making San Francisco ratepayers whole and sending a clear message that cozying up to regulators won’t be tolerated,” Herrera said in a statement. “Mohammed Nuru may have had his challenges keeping the streets clean, but he clearly excelled at cronyism, slush funds, and indifferent oversight.”
The tweet above shows some “Recology volunteers” happily helping with a cleanup project, but Nuru got more than just volunteers from the company. We learned via November 2020 FBI charges that a Recology community relations manager funneled more than $1 million in bribes to Nuru (“community relations,” indeed). Nuru was the regulator who could approve rate hikes, and Recology kept him well-compensated and happy to do so.
Mission Local’s report on the shady rate hikes reminds us of another delicious detail from those November charges — that Recology hired Nuru’s son, “allegedly in return for Nuru’s help in pushing through the increased garbage rates.” That arrangement did not last because of the very obvious ethical conflict, but per Mission Local, “Recology found Nuru’s son a job quickly because of time sensitivities regarding the pending rate hike,” and that the younger Nuru “kept this job despite reports of sleeping on the job and verbally and physically harming young children."
Recology and Public works front line staff get together to share operational plans on better ways to keep our city streets clean. pic.twitter.com/HMN4IPL09j— Mohammed Nuru (@MrCleanSF) December 17, 2019
Cash and check bribes to Nuru were allegedly shrouded as donations to innocent-sounding nonprofits like the Lefty O’Doul’s Foundation for Kids, but instead funded lavish parties for SF Public Works.
Celebrating the Grand Opening of Lefty’s Ballpark Buffet & Cafe at Fisherman Wharf. pic.twitter.com/WE7mm9Sz7x— Mohammed Nuru (@MrCleanSF) November 20, 2018
The average San Francisco household will be reimbursed $190, but don’t expect a check. Per the Chronicle, “Recology will reimburse ratepayers $94.5 million in overcharges and interest fees” and “start lowering their residential and commercial waste rates beginning on April 1.” Mission Local adds that Recology must complete the reimbursements by September 1. It will be interesting to see how this is handled, and how these reimbursements will appear on our Recology bills.
Image: @MrCleanSF via Twitter