We knew it was coming, and now it is here. San Francisco's long-serving former public works chief, Mohammed Nuru, has officially entered his guilty plea in federal court, with sentencing to follow in May.
Nuru appeared in federal court Thursday to enter his plea, as part of a plea agreement that was announced by prosecutors last month. In exchange for pleading guilty — and presumably providing further information to investigators that may aid in further indictments not yet announced — the feds have agreed to drop charges of money laundering and lying to the FBI. As the Chronicle reports, Nuru pleaded guilty to one count of fraud, for which prosecutors want him to serve at least nine years in prison — though he could face up to 20 years.
Nuru reportedly said little in court, but when asked by U.S. District Judge William Orrick via Zoom whether he was pleading guilty of his own free will, "because you are guilty," Nuru replied, "Yes."
Federal prosecutor Robin Harris reportedly rattled off some of the bigger-ticket bribes that Nuru received, many of them related to a vacation home he was renovating in Colusa County. These included $22,000 worth of home appliances given to Nuru by co-conspirator and local restaurateur Nick Bovis — who previously took a guilty plea in this same probe over 18 months ago — and $250,000 in free labor and materials for the home, given to him by city contractors Balmore Hernandez, William Gilmartin, and Alan Varela.
As the Chronicle notes, when Judge Orrick asked Nuru to confirm that all these allegations were true, Nuru replied, "Yes, your honor."
Nuru's arrest alongside Bovis, back in January 2020, set off a domino-string of further indictments and guilty pleas, which in turn led to the resignation of a handful of other SF City Hall department heads. While Mayor London Breed early on copped to accepting a gift of a free car repair from Nuru — with whom she was also reportedly romantically involved in recent years — Breed has otherwise not been implicated in any of Nuru's and others' shady dealings. And she said that the car repair was accepted as a gift from a longtime friend, which she later said was a "learning experience" about City Hall ethics.
Another girlfriend of Nuru's, former head of the city's "Fix-It" team Sandra Zuniga, ended up pleading guilty herself last March to helping Nuru launder cash gifts he received from city contractors.
The next shoe to drop may be new indictments for others in this broad-reaching scandal, after Nuru presumably gave the government new information in his plea deal. Prosecutors hinted in December that these will relate to taking a $20,000 bribe from a “former government employee,” and Nuru reportedly signed an admission of taking "cash bribes from a prominent developer in San Francisco" — though it's unclear if these are charges we already knew about. The exact details of the plea agreement are, of course, not public.
"Mohammed Nuru admits to a staggering amount of public corruption in his plea agreement,” said Acting US attorney Stephanie M. Hinds in a statement. "For years, Nuru held a powerful and well-paid public leadership position at San Francisco City Hall, but instead of serving the public, Nuru served himself. He took continuous bribes from the contractors, developers, and entities he regulated."
Nuru will return to court for his sentencing on May 26, and he remains free on a $2 million bond. In the meantime, now nearly two years in, this story probably isn't over.